Children deserve better: Increase funding of pediatric-cancer research | Seattle Times

Bald heads, children’s laughter, bicycles in the hallway… these are the images I think of as a day in my life as a pediatric oncology nurse at Seattle Children’s Hospital. These are the moments that I anchored in my memory when dark days haunt me. Most days are not filled with laughter but rather tears from needle sticks, chemotherapy or bone marrow biopsies. Difficult conversations and bad news have become too normal in my life. I remember holding a parent’s hand when he cried inconsolably after hearing, “Your child has cancer. “

Every three minutes another family somewhere in the world will hear these words. I remember walking into a room and seeing a child take his last breath in the middle of the night when his father was finally sleeping for the first time in days. Having to wake up a father to say, “I’m sorry your child is gone,” is a task that I don’t wish on anyone. Children deserve to live a full life, a life without cancer. Parents deserve to see their children grow up.

September was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, but many are unaware of the profound impacts of pediatric cancer. One awareness month per year is not enough to raise enough money to develop improved treatment options with reduced lifelong toxicities.

Every day, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer in the United States, and pediatric cancer is the leading cause of death from disease in children between the ages of 1 and 14. Treatments for pediatric cancers are aggressive and have impacts on normal development, toxicities for the heart, liver, kidneys and reproductive organs. Cancer treatment has many intolerable side effects, including intractable vomiting, mouth ulcers, bone pain, infections, hair loss, mood swings… the list goes on and on.

All of this suffering is a chance to survive, a chance to reach their next birthday, a chance to go to prom or have one more Christmas with their family. Survival is no guarantee, but suffering from treatment is inevitable. Over 95% of childhood cancer survivors have lifelong health problems due to current treatment options.

Every year the government spends billions of dollars on cancer research. The sad truth of this spending is that only 4% of the budget is spent on pediatric cancers. Why is the # 1 cause of death from illness in children only getting 4%?

Those who oppose increased funding for pediatric cancer argue that fewer children are diagnosed with cancer than women with breast cancer, for example. However, the potential for years of life lost is greater in pediatric patients because the average age of diagnosis is 10 years, compared to 61 years in breast cancer patients.

Breast cancer is the sixth leading cause of death from disease in women, but pediatric cancer is the number 1 in all children. This comparison is not intended to downplay the importance of breast cancer funding, but rather to highlight the importance of increasing funding for pediatric cancer research because of its devastating effects on our young people.

We need to raise awareness about pediatric cancer, demand more research funding at the federal level and involve our communities in advocating for children with cancer. I ask you to contact your local congressional representatives and seek their support in allocating more funds to pediatric cancer research. I challenge you to donate to the Pediatric Oncology branch of the National Cancer Institute Cancer Research Center, or to donate locally to the Pediatric Cancer Research Program at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

One month of awareness is not enough for the 43 children diagnosed every day, and 4% per year is not enough financial support to develop improved treatments that save lives. Together we can effect change by increasing awareness and financial support. If your kid was in the 43 today, wouldn’t you want them to have a chance to fight?

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About Rochelle Boisvert

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