It’s not even twelve hours into September, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and I am sitting at my keyboard quietly crying. To quote a fellow Cancer Mom, “September is different for me than for you.” A-freaking-men, truer words have never been spoken. (Thank you for those words, Tara.)
For me, September is a bit like looking down the open mouth of a lion. It can be overwhelming and sad, uplifting and hopeful, or both of those things within moments. Using my platform to raise awareness about childhood cancer is not without a price to me, or my family. By soliciting the stories of children with cancer, I purposefully keep myself rooted in the childhood cancer community, despite our daughter Donna being gone just shy of five years now.
Some days I just want to ignore cancer. I want to move on, leave it behind (as if we ever could), celebrate all that I have rather than dwell on what I have lost. This year in particular had me experiencing some September inertia. For months I have put off doing the work I need to do to curate the stories of childhood cancer I seek out. A wall of shame grew around my inertia, getting higher with each passing day.
I think the inertia comes from a place of knowing. I know intimately the struggles these children and their families experience. Reading about it is painful and draws me back to a time that my own daughter suffered from her cancer. It reminds me of what could have been, what will never be. It reminds me of my own trauma experienced in not being able to save or protect my daughter. What greater function of parenthood is there than to protect your child?
In the end I could not protect Donna. But I can honor her. I can work to shed light on the thousands of children like Donna, living and dying with cancer. I can remember my strong, brave little girl who, despite tremendous hardship, always did as she was asked. I can find the inspiration I need, as I always do, in beautiful, sweet, funny, wise Donna.
Three years ago I published Donna’s Cancer Story, daily installments of Donna’s 31 month cancer treatment that covered a month in Cancerville condensed into 1000-1200 words daily and a few photos to go along with it. When I pitched the idea to my blog manager at ChicagoNow, I completely underestimated what I was undertaking. I lived it, how much harder could it be to write about it?
Like Donna’s cancer, Donna’s Cancer Story changed my life in powerful ways. The act of writing it turned me both into a writer and a childhood cancer advocate. I remain committed to the belief that our children’s stories matter. I remain committed to the belief that childhood cancer devastates the families it touches in profound ways, known and unknown. I remain committed to the belief that if people know a child with cancer, they cannot help but become involved to varying degrees, from posting information in their social media feeds, to donating $ for research, to becoming strong and vocal advocates.
I’ve seen it happen and believe in the possibility that educating folks outside the childhood cancer community is a crucial advocacy tool.
That is why I created the “September Series” last year. Each day of the month I shared the Mary Tyler Mom platform to help tell the story of childhood cancer, one child, one parent, one oncologist at a time. This year, I will do the same, thanks to the brave contributors that help me. Readers will be introduced to childhood cancer survivors, grieving parents, oncology nurses, children currently in treatment, hoping parents, praying parents, worried parents, grateful parents, moms whose children are perfectly healthy, but heeded the call put out last year to become a part of the pediatric cancer world.
I encourage you to read and share. That’s how this whole thing works, you see. The childhood cancer community needs you. Desperately.
Please consider reading, sharing, and educating yourselves about what life is like for a child with cancer and the families who love them. Grateful thanks from my wounded heart that remains strong in the hope that our collective efforts will improve the lives and outcomes for children with cancer and their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, classmates, teachers, and neighbors.
Let’s do this. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. The color is gold.
I still have a few slots available this month to share the story of a child with cancer. If you want to be part of this year’s September Series and have a story to share, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.
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