Alex’s Lemonade Stand www.alexslemonadestand.org
Dan's House of Hope www.danshouseofhope.org
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center www.mskcc.convio.net
In 2010 at the age of 42 this wife, mother of three girls, business owner and runner was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer called osteosarcoma, which typically occurs in children aged 10-20. Since this type of cancer is a pediatric one, my oncologist was a pediatric oncologist. We had a memorable, if not pleasant first meeting in the Pediatric Hospital. He promised a minimum of nine months of grueling, debilitating-not-your-garden-variety-chemo cocktail, an amputation or limb-salvaging of my leg, many hospitalizations, and a new ride in the form of a wheelchair (due to aforementioned surgeries and weakness due to chemo). Sugar coating is not the strong suit of my particular oncologist, however, as he spoke, I was only hearing the following: I can continue to run my company on a modified schedule, I can still drive my kids since it is my left leg, the marathon will have to wait a year, must buy new pj’s, hats and scarves. Not that I was unfazed, fazed I was – but Pink Caped mode set in. Temporarily. I am pretty sure my oncologist read this misplaced determination on my face, so he pressed on more deliberately: “you will be seriously debilitated, these chemotherapy drugs are so strong, we will at some point during the treatment, have to weigh if the drugs or the cancer are doing more harm. If you survive the cancer and the treatment -IF -, THEN latent and long term effects will have to be dealt with, bladder obliteration, heart valve failure, hearing loss….” It wasn’t until the drive home that the gravity of this diagnosis set in. With my husband at the wheel, I read through the treatment plan and accompanying paperwork. The stack of papers on my lap described in stunning detail each of the drugs I would receive and the guaranteed side effects. This disease was bad, and I may not survive the fight. My Pink Cape was temporarily misplaced. Treatment began in earnest almost immediately. Rolling through the halls of the pediatric hospital, I saw that each small patient was accompanied by a woman who was being extraordinary in the duties unique to a mother with a child with cancer. In my mind at least, they each wore a Pink Cape. They were feeding, bathing and holding hands, all the while begging desperate prayers for their child’s healing to begin and the suffering to subside. I never saw a mom cry in the pediatric cancer center. They were the warrior’s warrior – smiling stoically while organizing care, schedules, visitors, X-rays, labs, and siblings. At night, they research their child’s disease through any and all means available, including Dr. Google. I know they save their vulnerabilities, fears and despair for when they are alone. That is when they allow the pink cape to come off. And cry.My treatment was, as promised, physically debilitating. It was also mentally the greatest challenge of my life thus far. My own battle was harrowing, but I was grateful every day that it was I fighting, and not one of our children. For me, the pink cape was worn by my husband, who was the embodiment of God’s love and strength. Our daughters had their Pink Capes on as well, cleaning the house, cooking meals and putting their mother’s needs ahead of their own. Still more Pink Caped ones put aside their busy lives to bring meals, send uplifting words, visit, call, take up chores, hold my hand, say prayers, and stay with our daughters when needed. These are not works of sweet, simple femininity – these are the feats that require Pink Capes to be donned – to be super human and self-sacrificing. Having experienced this circumstance from my unique perspective of a grown-woman-as-patient in the pediatric cancer ward, I believe the only suffering greater than that of a woman with a seriously ill child, is the suffering of a mother whose child has died of cancer. Forty six children are diagnosed with cancer each day. Seven children will die today of cancer. Yet, funding for all childhood cancers combined make up less than 1% of the NIH’s budget, less that 1 cent of money raised at Relay for Life events funds childhood cancer research. Cancer is more than breasts and prostates. When a child has cancer, a family has cancer. There have been no new drugs for pediatric cancers in the last 20 years. The Pink Caped Ones need some back up. They need hope, research and a cure. Perhaps the Pink Cape wearer’s best asset is that they are wholly underestimated. But I know that real strength, beauty, tenacity and goodness come from the God-given gifts of faith, hope and love. I ask you to consider supporting the Pink Caped Ones, through support of Childhood Cancer Causes – ones that support research and the support of families in the fight. We need tools for the battle. When a child is cured of cancer, the average years of life saved is 71. That is significant. What’s more, you save the life of that child’s whole family from a loss that is too great for words. We can all wear a pink cape, the question is, will you?