What Superheroes have in common

Why is it that kids with cancer relate so closely to superheroes?  Well, they certainly have some things in common…

1.  Superheroes begin as ordinary.
We all have this in common.  A clean, ordinary beginning (even if born on another planet, far far away).  Wether rich or poor, we come with the same basic equipment.  Mere mortals are we.

2.  Superheroes are compelled to action in circumstances of injustice. 
There is something that rises inside of all of us at certain injustices – abuse, neglect, prejudice, oppression, the things that makes our soul cry.  For kids with cancer, it must be the simple injustice that there is no cure and you got this cancer for no good reason – you didn’t smoke too much, work in a coal mine or drink yourself silly.  By the way, it must be fought with 20+ year old drugs.  The only way through, with any hope of returning to health is to endure it. 

3.  Superheroes have a base of operations, away from the public eye. 
Though it is not generally a Bat Cave or Secret Lab, the base of operations to fight the nefarious evil-doer that is cancer, is the hospital.  The hospital is the mother ship that must be returned to for months, even years, on end.  At some point during treatment, there is the realization that the real base of operations lies within.  That is where the campaign is truly waged.

4.  Superheroes have a secret identity, designed to protect those they love most, be it thier sidekick, Lois Lane or Mom. 
The kryptonite of every cancer patient is the despair that they see in those caring for them.  Knowing many pediatric patients, they feel a sense of responsibility for their caretaker’s happiness -they smile when they are sad, suppress justifiable screams of pain and find joy where there is little to be found.  Superheroes dig deep for the strength to endure with grace.

5.  Superheroes face an evil counterpart, villain or circumstance.
For just about anyone facing a health battle, it is an odd thing to reconcile that the enemy is unseen within your physical self.  Your body is your own, and for all it’s real and imagined flaws, a part of it has turned on you.  Why is it waging a war upon itself?  It must be stopped!

6.  When the odds are against Superheroes, they fight anyway.  
Wether they live or die on their journey, Superheroes and pediatric cancer patients prevail in the undertaking of it – with valor, honor and love.

I am sure that adult cancer patients also share some of these Superhero traits, but for the most part, they refrain from the use of superhero metaphors.  And capes. 

Yesterday I answered a question from the mother with a newly diagnosed son, “What do I tell my 11 year-old about having surgery before chemo to install a portacath?”  For the happily uninitiated, a “port” is a pin cushion (of sorts) installed under the skin, just below the collarbone.  It has a tube that is inserted into the jugular vein, allowing quick delivery directly into the bloodstream.  In most pediatric cancers, the type and dose of chemo drugs are so harsh that to simply run an IV line in an arm, would break down the skin and veins of the patient.  My answer was more to the son than the mother, and slightly more earnest than I intended; “This is the first step in becoming a cancer-slaying warrior!  You must be battle-ready with the weapons that will help infiltrate the enemy!  The port allows the allies (veins in arms) to be unharmed.  This is the most direct path to the battlefield.”  The superhero journey has begun.

As an adult who had been diagnosed with cancer in 2010 (and has thus far survived-thank you Jesus),  I had, at 43 years old – at a minimum – out-lived 100% of the battles I had faced.  An 11 year old has not. Their frame of reference is quite different than ours.  For most 11 year-olds, the only epic battle that is on the level of cancer, are those that have been seen in comic books or movies.  The young cancer patient is fearful, but undaunted – they know that ultimately, Spiderman lives, Batman prevails, and Prince Charming slays the dragon.  Kids with cancer know the rules of superheroes.  They know fear, but accept the mission anyway.   Perhaps because they know not of failure.

It has been a while since I have written, in spite of stories swirling in my head and inspiration abounding.  Particularly with my work with MIB (Make It Better) Agents, which I started in January.  Our mission is to MIB for pediatric cancer patients by:

  • Pairing a child in active treatment for cancer with a child who survived the same cancer.  The survivor writes a letter of hope and support to the child in treatment.
  • Providing end-of-life experiences for pediatric patients and their families – with the goal of making happy memories.  We undertake this with friends of MIB Agents who connect us with experiences that are of interest to the child.
  • Providing gifts from hats to iPads for kids in treatment.
  • Supporting research through Children’s Cancer Therapy Development Institute 
  • Creating awareness through awesome videos like the one below and on this websiteunder “Media & Videos” for The Ellen Show’s EllenTube.

The EllenTube #JustKeepDancing OsteoPeeps video does not show enough of the suffering that goes on.  One of the kids in the video just relapsed after being declared a NERD (No Evidence of Recurring Disease), one lost her hair just after the video was shot, one’s leg was just amputated from the hip joint, another – passed away shortly after treatment began.  The video doesn’t tell those stories well enough.    It also doesn’t tell the story of the sidekicks, friends, siblings and parents whose invisible capes are sacred symbols of selfless love and sacrifice in the service to another person. 

So, dear superheroes of pediatric cancer, I stand in awe of you.  I hereby promise to write more and do more to bring about awareness, research and a cure for what ails you.  I ask the good people of Metropolis, “WHO IS WITH ME?”.

P.S. The answer to “Why do pediatric cancer patients relate so closely with Superheroes?” is simple.  They ARE Superheroes.  

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