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What Working at a Children’s Cancer Organization Means to Me

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Two months ago, I lost my father to lung cancer. Years ago he had survived prostate cancer and treatment, but he just couldn’t win the battle against his stage 4 diagnosis.

As I sat with him in his hospital room, seeing him helpless and breathing through a ventilator, I wished he had caught the cancer sooner. I wished for him to be cured and be the dad I saw just 10 days earlier laughing with his granddaughter. That’s what most people who have a loved one diagnosed with cancer wish for, but in most cases, the wish doesn’t come true.

I admit that my spirit was a bit broken after he passed away. It wasn’t easy to go back to my job as the content manager for CureSearch for Children’s Cancer, an organization dedicated to finding pediatric cancer cures.

In fact, it was emotionally draining to write stories about children being diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma at 3 months old and about parents who had to watch their only child lose their fight against brain cancer. Every story I read reminded me of my father, and it reiterated that cancer can strike anyone, young or old, at any time.

Despite the difficulty of easing back into my job, I immersed myself in it. It was what I needed to do to move on, and it was what I wanted to do to learn more about this deadly disease. Through my organization, I learned more about the 43 children diagnosed with cancer each day, the 60 percent of cancer survivors who cope with late-term effects like heart failure and secondary cancers and the more than 15,000 parents who will hear the words “your child has cancer” this year.

I learned that on a national level, pediatric cancer research receives only 4 percent of
funding, and that researchers who want to find cures for cancer are the most vulnerable to these federal funding shortages.

It’s always shocking to hear statistics and facts like this, especially when they refer to children. However, it is easy to feel detached when there isn’t a specific name or face associated with it. 

That’s how I initially felt until I started hearing firsthand from parents and cancer survivors. I talked to Board member Annie Gould, a mother who lost her daughter, Eloise, to rhabdomyosarcoma. She has made it her mission to keep the memory of her daughter alive and to raise awareness for the need for research. To date, she has raised over $250,000 in walk and hike events to go toward cancer cures.

I attended a local walk event in Virginia where the featured speaker was Beau Swallow, who was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma when he was 12 years old. He is a survivor and now attends college, and he never takes for granted a single day of his life. After he spoke, as part of every CureSearch walk event, parents and loved ones released gold balloons into the air. They were in memory of the children lost to cancer. It was heartbreaking to see, but when I looked around at all the people standing here for a common cause, it made me feel that although I may have lost one member of my family, I just gained many more.

Then I learned that a father, Ralph Currey, is going to donate money from his CureSearch Legacy family foundation to help fund research for Ewing sarcoma. Ralph’s son, Nick, survived leukemia as a young boy, but he later developed Ewing sarcoma and passed away at the age of 19. Childhood cancer survivors are nine times more likely to develop a sarcoma or experience devastating side effects that result from toxic therapies, and that’s exactly what happened with Nick. Ralph is going to donate thousands of dollars toward the work of Dr. Mary Beckerle, whose goal is to find new and improved therapies for Ewing sarcoma that either represent a real cure or are less toxic than conventional chemotherapy.

These are the stories of real people who have been affected by cancer, just like me. These are the stories of people who continue to push for a cure so that people like me won’t have to deal with the devastating loss of a loved one. These stories inspire me to move beyond my grief and to do something that matters.

I’m honored to work for an organization that I’m personally connected to and whose mission is to put an end to cancer.

If you are someone affected by cancer, consider making a donation to CureSearch and give at least one of the 40,000 children undergoing cancer treatment in the U.S. some hope.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Originally published: October 27, 2016
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