If you’re like most people, you’ve probably never heard of it – or even noticed those gold ribbons, the emblems of childhood cancer.
I know I didn’t know that September was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month until my 7-year-old was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.
Sometime in the middle of one of Natasha’s vicious chemo cycles, I wondered into a grocery store that was festooned with pink ribbons, and was asked at check-out if I wanted to make a donation in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Sure I did, but why was nobody asking me to make a donation in honor of kids with cancer?
It turns out that Childhood Cancer Awareness Month has been going on since 1990, when former President George W.H. Bush signed the first proclamation. But because cancers in children are rare, big corporations are less likely to direct their donor dollars there, preferring the wider reach of adult diseases. So Childhood Cancer Awareness Month keeps a low profile and that’s a bitter pill to swallow for those of us who are parents of pediatric cancer patients.
One in 300 children and teens will develop a childhood cancer. My child was that 1 in 300. Your child probably won’t be. But now that you know about Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, please don’t just be aware: take action. Here’s what you can do:
· If you are having a birthday party for your child, consider asking friends to make a small online donation to a children's cancer nonprofit, in lieu of gifts. That might not fly with some kids, but others will get a kick out of knowing they are helping sick children (and parents might be glad to be spared the chore of gift-shopping). Children's cancer nonprofts that have good reputations include the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, Alex's Lemonade Stand and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
· Help out in a Ronald McDonald House, where the families of children stay while they undergo cancer treatment. Your donations of food, toiletries and kitchen supplies will be welcome. Some families pitch in by cleaning the kitchen or preparing meals (you can get more information by finding your local chapter).
· Donate blood. Children on chemotherapy depend on blood donations from good Samaritans. That’s because most chemo treatments work by destroying both cancer cells and normal blood cells, resulting in anemia and low platelets (thrombocytopenia). Both conditions can be lethal in extreme cases.
· If your hospital has a pediatric cancer treatment center, consider donating small gifts. Many centers offer children a gift to pick after undergoing chemo, radiation or other uncomfortable medical procedures. Popular gifts include nail polish, tattoos, stickers, magnets, photo frames, body lotion, hats, crayons and coloring books. (Note that gifts must be new and in their original packaging.)
Donate hair to Wigs for Kids. This nonprofit collects ponytails to make into wigs for children who have lost their hair due to chemo or radiation. Hair must be a minimum of 12 inches and cannot be color-treated or permed.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month starts in October. Before we all think pink, please take action and help our youngest cancer warriors.
Suzanne Leigh is a freelance health reporter, a Huffington Post blogger and the mother of two gorgeous girls. She blogs about her family at: www.themourningafternatasha.wordpress.com