As we’re now into October, let us remember that September represented Pediatric Cancer Awareness, a time for us to commemorate those who have lost their fight and share a moment of reflection to honor those amid the battle for their young lives. In my recent history, as a board member of a local Illinois nonprofit pediatric cancer foundation, Cal’s Angels, I’ve learned that awareness is the key to working toward the obstacles in finding a cure.
According to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, fewer than 10 drugs have been developed for use in children with cancer and only three drugs: Teniposide, Clofarabine, and Unituxin (for use in high-risk neuroblastoma) have been approved for use in children since 1980. With a mere 4% of federal government cancer research funding going toward the study and research of pediatric cancer, it’s no wonder there are few drug choices for children in need.
In a country known for our medical expertise and innovation, how can we turn a blind eye to the more than 15,000 American children diagnosed with cancer each year? That is 43-plus children diagnosed a day. The simple fact is that we must do better for our children. As a mother to two young girls, this is gut-wrenching to even think about it.
I never had the opportunity to meet Cal, and yet his legacy has moved me to serve on the board of the foundation commemorated in his name. After watching a close counterpart’s son battle with pediatric cancer, I knew I had to do more. My friend’s 16-month-old son was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer that develops from immature nerve cells found in several areas of the body. We were all devastated for his family. In our weekly updates, we saw photos of what their precious baby boy was going through as wires and medical devices were attached to his tiny body. I won’t pretend to begin to understand how difficult those long days, weeks and months were for their family.
Cal’s Angels is committed to meeting this need. The organization was founded in honor of Cal Sutter, a Little League All-Star who passed away from acute myelogenous leukemia. He was only 13 years old.
Cal’s kindness and generosity inspired the start of this organization that has been able to bring hope and support to thousands of kids with cancer and their families. We are even more aware that we need to focus on spreading awareness. Pediatric cancer research has fallen far behind that of other cancers.
Through Cal’s, I’ve had the opportunity to meet incredible, strong children in the midst of their battles with cancer – children who like my own daughters love Disney princesses, Taylor Swift and playing with their friends. Cal’s Angels provides me the opportunity to be an advocate and to fight for these beautiful children.
The best way – and perhaps the only way – we can celebrate September being Pediatric Cancer Awareness month is to spread the word: 40 years is far too long. 4% is simply not enough.
It is not lost on me that the gift of health is something that can never be taken for granted. My hope is that we raise awareness and continue to commit funding directly to research that cures this awful disease. Our children should be focused on experiencing the many joys that childhood and life have to offer.
Every child deserves that chance.
Charlotte Canning is a board member for Cal’s Angels Foundation, a 501(c)(3) pediatric cancer foundation with a mission of granting wishes, raising awareness and funding research to help kids fighting cancer. She lives in Elgin.