What is your dream job? It has been said that if you can’t connect with what you want to be today, you should recall to the best of your ability, what you wanted to be when you were age 10 and under.
Forty five years ago I was in the second grade learning about Professor Leakey – a prominent paleontologist, archaeologist and anthropologist. The Leakey’s discoveries of early human remains in 1964 were utterly astounding. This lesson in my science book in 1974 inspired me to ‘write’ about his work in my oversized handwriting practice book with my equally oversized pencil. The result was a two sentence declaration of my life’s purpose; to be a paleontologist (which was just autocorrected all these years later). My teacher, upon reading/deciphering this announcement called me to her desk, quietly shook her head and looked at me incredulously while stating with absolute authority that, in fact, all discoveries had already been made – thanks to Louis and Mary Leakey. My life’s purpose was derailed, along with a fraction of hope for better.
While I do not think my teacher (whom I thought carried all knowledge of the world within her), deliberately sidetracked my imagined brilliant career of unearthing the remains of early man, I do think that she may have been devoid of faith, hope and imagination of what could be, and was yet to be discovered. Her belief in 1974 seemed to be that this was as good as it gets.
The discoveries in the last 45 years have accelerated at such a rate that I find we can sometimes barely keep up. The discovery this week of 3,000 year-old astonishingly well-preserved coffins in Egypt affirms the perpetual nature of discovery. In my daily life working to Make it Better for kids who are suffering with osteosarcoma, the same disease I have survived (thus far), I believe the osteosarcoma research being done now will result in better outcomes for kids with cancer. It has to – osteosarcoma patients are subjected to treatments as old as my 2nd grade textbook. Together with the osteosarcoma community, we fund this impactful research. I believe in discovery. I believe in better.
At no time in the history of human life has there been a better time for discovery. We have the tools, technology, data, worldwide instant connectivity with those who are suffering the same disease, collaboration amongst physicians and scientists, technology and a decoded human genome to work with. I choose faith that we will find kinder treatments, hope that discoveries are imminent and courage to undertake the sometimes incredibly difficult work of raising the awareness and funding needed for meaningful research.
Maybe 1974 was as good as it gets. Maybe not. I choose to believe that our best days are ahead; that kids with cancer will get a chance to become adults, that not another small coffin will be lowered into the ground because their cancer could not be stopped, that parents and siblings will not spend the rest of their days with the words “supposed to” engraved on their hearts.
It is up to us – all of us – to declare that childhood cancer matters, then let our actions affirm our assertion. It is not only important, but our imperative to work together to improve the state of this disease that takes the limbs and too often, the lives of kids who are diagnosed. Together we will discover kinder treatments and a cure. It is up to us in this time of great discovery to use our powers for good. To believe in impossible things. This is not as good as it gets. Indeed, the best is yet to come.