Although today is October 1st, which marks the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (known among my circle of MBC ladies and early-stage allies alike as “Pinktober”, “Stinktober” or Puketober” – more on why during tomorrow’s #metsmonday), I’m not going to write about that. I’m going to write about something that just ended – Childhood Cancer Month, which is during the month of September.
Even though I identify as agnostic, when things are tough, I try to believe that there’s a plan, a larger meaning for all this suffering. Then a kid dies of cancer and it’s like “Nope. Life’s just a motherfucker.”
Younes had hometime over the weekend and we wanted to watch some TV together. We have different tastes – I’m addicted to Law and Order and crime shows while he prefers Westerns and action movies. So we started watching back episodes of a show we both like, which is “American Ninja Warrior.” I was looking for a break from thinking about cancer. Joke’s on me.
The contestants usually have some back story about overcoming adversity and such, but then a back story came on that reduced us to tears. A mom was competing. Her son, Jacob had loved the show. He had died a year ago of an aggressive form of medulloblastoma, a brain tumor found mostly in children. He was five. FIVE.
There has been so much progress in treating childhood leukemia that pediatric brain tumors are now the leading cause of death among childhood cancers. Pediatric brain cancers are difficult to treat for the reasons any brain tumors, primary or metastasized, are difficult to treat – the difficulty in getting drugs through the Blood Brain Barrier and the unique fragility of the delicate brain tissue – which is why we need more translational research across cancer types. But the distressing thing is that funding has dried up.
I am so upset by this. Childhood cancers may account for a small number of overall cancers, just like breast cancer under 40 is rare. But our children and adolescents are our future. Our young adults are our productive work force and parents or would-be parents. I will say something that might be controversial – younger people deserve a proportionally bigger piece of the pie. And our children most of all. Jacob will never have a chance to be on “American Ninja Warrior.” That’s not right.