I haven’t written much in recent months, but I have been thinking. A lot.
Those of us who are parents can identify with the early morning wake up call that heralds a long, long day of caregiving and coping. I’ve raised three sons, and still remember the struggle to drag myself from my cozy nest after too little sleep and bring my best parenting game with me. The one thing I remember that made it all worthwhile was that little person grinning and gurgling in his crib, nearly turning himself inside out with joy. Whether that joy was the result of seeing me, of just being alive or because he’d recently divested himself of a very large bowel deposit, none of them has been able to tell me. In any case, the joy was infectious and soon had me giggling too.
In recent months, I have had the occasion to watch my firstborn at his job after being away from him for over four years. At forty-four years of age he had me grinning like a loon as I observed him in his world, just as I did when he was four months old. I sat and listened delightedly as my two eldest exchanged japes and jests over a meal, bringing back memories of their teen years. I looked forward to the following week, when my youngest child would join us for what was another joyful reunion.
As I reflect on the joys my boys have brought and continue to bring to my life, my thoughts do an abrupt turn. “What about those parents who have lost a child?” I have the privilege of knowing two sets of parents who have lost teenage sons in recent months to childhood cancer. They had the early morning baby calls, the little boy adventures, the goofy teenage years, but there it ends. They can only imagine what their child might accomplish as an adult, who they might choose to share their lives with, what grandchildren they might bring into their lives. I watch as my three boys follow their three distinct and separate dreams yet maintain their connection to where they started. I see them contribute to their world by the work they do and the people they choose to be with and the families they raise, and my heart aches for my friends even while it bursts with joy and pride in my offspring.
September was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and we have been made aware of both women’s and men’s cancers in the intervening months. September may be over, but to those who have lost a child, grandchild, sibling, cousin or friend to cancer, awareness is with them every single moment of every month and every year. Every birthday, religious or cultural holiday that is marked through the year and years following the loss of a child brings renewed agony to folks whose pain will never cease. Each time they hear from their child’s friends or see them or their remaining children achieving life landmarks and goals is bittersweet. I have lost parents, friends and a sibling, but never, not yet, my child. When those who have suffered such a loss tell you you can’t imagine the pain, believe them. I do.
Every individual who suffers from this terrible disease, and every person and family affected by it deserves to be remembered, honoured and supported in any way our society can find to help. The official fundraisers and awareness campaigns are over for another year, but let us not forget the children. Childhood cancer will not wait until September to strike.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society’s website, “Childhood cancer is relatively uncommon. However, it remains the most common disease-related cause of death – more than asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and AIDS combined. It is second only to injury-related deaths among Canadian children.”
And Childhood Cancer Canada states, “Only 3% of all cancer research funding is directed to childhood cancer research. Despite this, we have made great strides in increasing survival rates and making treatments less dangerous for young and growing bodies. With only 3% of cancer research funding, we’ve accomplished so much: forty years ago childhood cancer survival rates were less than 60%. Today, survival rates are now over 82%— imagine what we could do with more research funding?”
It’s a trite and worn expression, over-used because it is true: Our children are our future. Let’s fight for them.
For more insight into a parent’s loss, and to see how the fight for the children of others continues, visit: