I was just a kid… graduated high school and set out for a university over 1,500 miles away in the smack dab middle of Pennsylvania. My brother attended school there and was a couple years older than me, but beyond that I barely knew a soul. I was aware that attending Penn State would be a transformative experience, but I never would have guessed that what I learned there about childhood cancer would shape the rest of my life.
As a freshman, I had the opportunity to stand for forty-eight hours straight in an effort to raise money and awareness about Childhood Cancer and the Four Diamonds Fund through the Penn State Dance Marathon. No sitting, no sleeping for two days straight. Needless to say, hours 24-48 were brutal, but one common theme got myself and the other 700 dancers through it, the faces and families of those affected by the cruel disease that is cancer.
Here are the facts according to Alexslemonade.com:
- Childhood cancer research is vastly and consistently underfunded.
- Childhood cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15 in the U.S.
- One in 285 children in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer by the time they are 20 years old.
- Every year, an estimated 250,000+ new cases of cancer affect children under the age of 20 worldwide.
- Two-thirds of childhood cancer patients will have long lasting chronic conditions from treatment.
By the time I graduated at Penn State, I knew volunteering for Dance Marathon wouldn’t be the end of dedicating myself to helping support families with cancer and other illnesses and I became a Child Life Specialist. Along my journey at Penn State and through my career, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and supporting families who are affected by childhood cancer and I asked them to share some of their experiences with you.
From a fellow Austin mama:
Six months ago, after Riley’s Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis, we were advised that his treatment would last most of a year and we shouldn’t expect him to return to school for at least that long. I remember the day when I took his school uniforms off their hangers, folded them neatly and, climbing up on a step stool, placed them in piles on the top shelf of Riley’s closet. On that day I didn’t know if or when the green polo shirts and blue cotton pants would be worn again.
Jeff and I knew that the road of Riley’s cancer treatment may be long and the battle fierce. At times they were. A few days after diagnosis, when the shock was fading and a deep ache was settling in, I confided to a friend, “I know if I can do this” She wisely replied, “You can.” She reminded me that my strength would fail, but God’s never does. She was right.
From a mama who is a survivor:
When I began to reflect on what I wanted to write for this, I initially started writing about my experience with cancer as I have, many times before, by describing what age I was when I was diagnosed, what type of cancer I had, etc. Then I realized, that since I wrote last, I have gained a whole new perspective; I have become a mother to two beautiful children who fill my days with smiles, laughter, tantrums, tears, and most importantly, immeasurable love.
As a pediatric cancer survivor, there are aspects of my health still impacted by the treatment I endured as a teenager. I keep up on necessary yearly appointments to monitor blood counts, my heart, bones, and eyes and I have bilateral hip replacements and deteriorating joints which make it difficult to keep up with my energetic kiddos sometimes. But the biggest impact that my experience with cancer has made on my life is the lesson it taught me: the meaning of life, the importance of family, of the little things, and taking the time to be grateful. My body may be broken, but it has created and birthed two healthy babies, scoops tiny bodies up to wipe dirty faces, give hugs and kisses, and to calm tears.
I have found a new strength in motherhood and my gratefulness for life and for those who played a part in helping me conquer cancer and bringing me to this incredible time in my life has deepened ten-fold. Cancer, without a doubt, has been one of the most difficult things I have faced, but it did not break my spirit. If anything, it made me a better person, a better daughter, sister, wife and mother, with a deep appreciation for my life and those who fill it, and for that, I am incredibly thankful.
Whether you change your Facebook profile pic to recognize the month, you donate to so many worthy charities (here, here or here), or you just simple repost these mothers’ words, do something to spread awareness. In the words of THON, “One day we will dance in celebration, until then, we dance for a cure.”