4 ways to fight childhood cancer
September is one of my favorite months for many reasons. Yes, it is my birthday month, which is super special as a three-time cancer survivor. But it’s also Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, bringing attention to the thousands of children and teens impacted every year. I wanted to share 4 ways to fight childhood cancer so you too can help raise awareness this month and beyond.
Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is recognized every September by childhood cancer organizations around the world. The goal is to increase awareness of how this disease impacts children and teens. Many organizations also raise funds for those affected by childhood cancer and increase advocacy to push for changes at legislative levels.
Consider the following facts about childhood cancers:*
- An estimated 15,780 children ages 0-19 are diagnosed with cancer annually in the United States.
- 43 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer every day.
- Cancer is #1 cause of death by disease for American children.
- 400,000 children and adolescents are diagnosed with cancer worldwide each year.
- 20% of children with cancer will not survive.
- Although survival rates vary by cancer types, more than 80% of American childhood cancer patients become long-term survivors.
The impact of childhood cancer
As a three-time cancer survivor, I’m passionate about advocating for all cancers. There is no good cancer, nor good age to be diagnosed. Cancer is a terrible disease and treatment is hard. But I will admit that adolescent and young adult cancer survivors hold a special place in my heart. No one likes to see young people facing such challenges, and even death.
Going through cancer at that young age impacts the rest of your life. I know that I can honestly say that clearing bone cancer at 21 set the tone and journey for my adult life. It’s impacted my career choices, relationships (friends, family, intimate), motherhood (I couldn’t have children), my outlook on life, my compassion and drive to use my voice to help others and so much more.
While I was 21 when diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer, I was treated in pediatric oncology. Osteosarcoma typically affects teens. Although like all cancer, it can be unpredictable. I’m incredibly grateful for that decision by my oncologist and surgeon. I loved the extra special love and kindness that flowed through the department! It was tough seeing so many young children, some not even yet walking, going through cancer treatment. However, I will say that their great attitudes and ability to laugh at so much certainly made me smile too, even on the toughest of treatment days.
4 ways to fight childhood cancer
Be an advocate.
Only a small portion of government funding is earmarked for research specific to childhood cancers and developing low toxic drugs and treatments. And currently only 21 U.S. states include childhood cancer in their Comprehensive Cancer Control Plan, the state plan that identifies how to address the burden of cancer in its geographic area.
Becoming a volunteer for cancer advocacy organizations can make an impact on early detection of cancers, survival rates and long-term survivorship care. Using your voice will help shape policy at the local, state and federal levels that can lead to advancements in research, more age-appropriate medical treatment and better access to affordable care for patients. [Read my ‘Five ways to advocate for change‘ post to get started.]
Raise awareness of the cause.
Raising awareness of an issue encourages people to talk about the topic, which leads to more people stepping up to help push for change. Look for volunteer opportunities in your area that help raise awareness.
For example, I recently had fun helping a small group tie gold ribbons on hundreds of trees throughout the hospital campus where I was treated for osteosarcoma (and the other cancers). I’m so grateful to the care team that saved my life and continue to be proactive in my health. I love helping in these fun ways to give back and raise awareness of important issues like childhood cancer.
Make sure your child is up to date on vaccines and well visits.
Childhood vaccines protect children from a variety of serious or potentially fatal diseases. These critical vaccine appointments unfortunately dropped during the Covid-19 pandemic and are still down in many areas of the United States.
One very important cancer-fighting vaccine is the Human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccination. This vaccine helps prevent several different types of cancer! The recommended age to get the HPV vaccination is typically age 11–12 years (can start at age 9 years) for females AND males. Talk to your child’s doctor for details.
Make sure that your child or teen is also up-to-date on well visits. These appointments let the doctor establish base line health, which help to notice changes in health. Pay attention to health changes in your child’s health and contact the pediatrician for an appointment.
Show support for survivors.
Children going through cancer treatment may miss school, sports and other activities that bring joy to childhood. Help make life easier for them by ensuring that other children understand what the child is going through, don’t make fun or bully them for being bald or possibly having physical challenges, and can be a friend to the child going through cancer. And perhaps ensure that ADULTS understand all this too. The National Cancer Institute offers resources for caring for children and teens with cancer.
Thankfully, many childhood cancer survivors are living long beyond their cancer treatment. This is amazing news! However, side effects are also prevalent. Examples include physical challenges, infertility, cardiology concerns and hearing loss. Mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, are also common among childhood cancer survivors. Show your support by being a friend. Offer a listening ear. Be there if they have doctor appointments and tests. Ask how they’re doing. Subscribe to this blog to access my resource library with more tips on being a friend to cancer survivors.
*sources: National Cancer Institute; St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital