Brandon Stanton is a stranger to me, but should I ever be lucky enough to meet this man, I would have met an honest to goodness hero with a heart of gold. Those are all ridiculous cliches of course, and yet, where Brandon is concerned, they are simply descriptors.
He is the young man behind Humans of New York, that Facebook juggernaut of a page where you go when you need a lift. He uses his camera to not only capture humanity, but inspire humanity. We need Brandon right now. All of us.
Less than three weeks ago, I learned, when my Facebook feed started blowing up, that Brandon was committing HONY to a fundraiser for the pediatric cancer patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. This is a place where dozens of children I know have been treated for their disease. I started weeping with the realization that his lens would be trained on pediatric cancer and what a powerful force that would be.
I have used storytelling as a tool to gain awareness of and create advocates for pediatric cancer since 2011 when I first wrote Donna’s Cancer Story. My hope and belief was that if people knew a child with cancer, they would care and want to help. Despite the incidence of childhood cancer being on the rise and despite cancer being the number one disease killer of children in America, it is woefully underfunded. People within the community know the truth, that, in many respects, our kids are invisible.
That is a painful truth.
With HONY using its massive reach and Brandon’s empathic lens, his gift for making us see things we never saw before, pediatric cancer just found its new BFF.
There was a thrill on my page, an excitement, a current of hope that I have never felt before. People would see our kids, know their stories, perhaps, even care. $3.8 million dollars and two weeks later, Lordy, does it feel good to be seen.
When you live with childhood cancer, when you are caring for a child with cancer, the isolation, the despair, the loneliness, the fear, all those things become your life. You feel broken and marked and different than those around you. I have often felt grateful that the years we cared for Donna during her cancer treatments, social media was not yet a part of my life. The pain of seeing other thriving children while your own is experiencing something so horrendous has to be like a low level of constant torture that gives you a zing every time you log on.
HONY put our children (and, yes, somehow every child with cancer feels like one of my own) front and center. And they were ready for their close-up.
As the mother of a daughter who died of cancer, I am immensely grateful. I connected with so many of the stories he brought to us. It was enlightening to have a window into what it is like to be a doctor to these kiddos, to willingly go to work day-in and day-out, knowing your entire patient base would die, despite your best efforts. To see the fear in a parent’s eyes, a fear I know well. To hear, in the words of a child, what something as unruly as cancer living in your body might feel like. To see a woman on a bench talk about her dead child and to cry with her, as I still grieve my own.
I use words to help people connect, encourage them to feel. Brandon uses photos. He nailed it.
If you haven’t already done so, please head over to Humans of New York. Allow yourself to get to know a child living with cancer, a nurse who administers chemo, a surgeon who says a prayer that his patient might wake up from their anesthesia, a researcher who keeps researching despite not finding a single answer, a mom who misses her son. Looks like donations are still open, too. You can give (even $1 helps) HERE.
HONY, thank you, from the bottom of my broken heart, for seeing us. Thank you for helping others see us, too. We needed you so much more than you will ever know or realize. You are a gift.