Pediatric cancer is the number one disease killer of children in the United States and that means that one child in every four American elementary schools will be diagnosed with cancer. If you are not related to a child with cancer, your child may know someone suffering. Over 12,500 kids under 15 will be diagnosed this year–whether it’s with a blood cancer like leukemia (one of the most common forms) or a bone cancer like osteosarcoma (more rare).
And now each September is deemed Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. So few of us are directly touched by the disease we sometimes are not aware of how little is being done to research its causes and cures. Often, all we imagine are the kids in the St. Jude ads and television commercials with their round faces and bald heads who they tell us have survived. (Often the round faces are due to treatments with steroids). While it is one research center, St. Jude does not work exclusively on cancer research. A consortium of hospitals and practitioners work together through the Children's Oncology Group, sharing results across buildings and states. But even that is not enough.
Survival rates have gotten marginally better in the last decade. 75-80 percent of kids with cancer will survive for five years. And while that number sounds somewhat rosy, it means more than 20 percent still die. We also know that among those survivors will be kids who may succumb to second cancers later, either as a result of treatment or for reasons unknown. We also know that many of those children (and their siblings and parents) will fight Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and its various symptoms. And we know that many of those survivors will live with scars forever–the loss of a limb, the need for an internal prosthetic, learning disabilities, hearing loss, nerve damage or more. The survivor statistics only tell part of the story.
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Currently, less money is spent each year on childhood cancer research than the cost of one big-name Hollywood movie or a weekend take at the box office for the top five films that week. The American Cancer Society spends a small portion of its fundraising dollars on childhood cancer. So all the Relay for Life programs that involve kids in schools, while wonderful, give very little to pediatric research or the post-treatment support needed for young survivors. Other groups who are not so well known focus only on childhood cancer fundraising: Curesearch, the outreach arm of the Children's Oncology Group, St. Baldrick's Foundation, Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, National Pediatric Research Foundation and other smaller organizations across the country.
Research is not sexy but it saves lives in the long run. Awareness also saves lives because it raises interest and raises money – and it may help a family understand the symptoms or learn where to find the right treatment if its ever needed. This group of related articles on workingmother.com seeks to do just that.