Pediatric cancer parent: Honor Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

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By Denise Rager

As the mother of a seventh grade cancer survivor, I have a lot of friends who know exactly what it means to hear the words, "I am sorry, your child has cancer." And, when Childhood Cancer Awareness Month rolls around every September, I know my Facebook Newsfeed will be filled with pictures of kids who have won and lost battles against cancer. 


But September also reminds me that our society has not really embraced Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. The color pink is already everywhere in anticipation of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. We all know the struggles of women fighting breast cancer, but our kids are forgotten. Cancer moms and dads are forgotten. 


The only way we can change this is by telling the stories of families affected by pediatric cancer. September is our month to remind people of the battles that our kids fought and that many are still fighting. 


Trouble imagining the future

In 2007, my son Matthew was diagnosed with a malignant glioma brain tumor. He was just 5 years old. I remember thinking I would never see him start junior high school. In those dark times, it was sometimes hard to imagine the future. My son had brain cancer. My world was shattered.  

My faith and lots of prayer got me through those early days of despair, as did Matthew's positive progress. After a successful surgery in California, our home state, we moved our family to Houston so Matthew could get the best care possible. At MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital, Matthew received six weeks of proton radiation and completed 15 cycles of chemotherapy

Living with the scars of pediatric cancer

Matthew has been cancer-free for more than six years, but he still lives with the battle scars. Matthew will always have daily reminders that he is a survivor of a pediatric cancer. His thyroid and pituitary glands do not function normally, but daily medication helps to solve this. 


Matthew is shorter than his seventh grade peers. He still has a baby face, while other boys are starting to shave. When getting a haircut, Matthew has to tell the hairdresser to avoid cutting his hair too short around the bald spot, a reminder of the radiation that saved his life. He still has issues with the taste of food, a problem that started with chemotherapy and still exists today.


We need to bring hope to other children and families

Sometimes Matthew complains about all the issues he has to deal with that other kids do not. When this happens, I remind Matthew of his battle with cancer, of the friends who are no longer here. He grows silent for a moment, and then he gives me a smile and says, "I know, Mom. Don't sweat the small stuff." 


It's a lesson that Matthew's cancer taught me. The one gift cancer gave me is perspective.  Now, each day is a new day and is filled with possibilities.


But now we need to work to help bring new days and possibilities to other children, other families. We need to remember that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  


As long as kids are still being diagnosed with cancer our job is not done. We need to remind people of families' cancer journeys. We need to prevent cancer from defining our children, and, instead, use it to find purpose, to find joy in each new day. That's what September is for. 

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