September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
I went to a funeral on Saturday, the heartbreaking kind of funeral that I fervently wish didn’t have to exist. Our sweet neighbor was only nine years old when she died of cancer last month. Brylee Waltrip was nine years old and had spent almost all of her life in a battle for her life. She was three years old when her first diagnosis came, and much of the next six years were spent between what Brylee called her “first hospital” (St. Francis) and her “second hospital” (St. Jude’s).
Unfortunately, Brylee’s experience with cancer is not a rarity. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, with the main purpose being to bring awareness, provide support, and encourage funding for childhood cancer research and care. Seventeen thousand children are diagnosed with cancer every year in the United States. The average age at the time of diagnosis is ten years old. Cancer is the number one cause of death by disease for children in the United States, yet it is consistently underfunded by the government.
According to the American Cancer Society, there has been a significant increase in survival rates in children with cancer. In the 1970s, the five-year survival rate in children with cancer was only about 58%. Because of significant advances in treatments, the five-year survival rate is now about 85%. Although increasing the survival rate is positive, many survivors of childhood cancer have lifelong health issues caused by the disease and as a result of the treatment.
What is Childhood Cancer?
Cancer is the umbrella term for many different types of diseases that share the common origin of cells in the body that begin to grow out of control and sometimes spread to other parts of the body. Unlike many adult cancers, childhood cancers have little to do with lifestyle choices or environmental factors. Only a small percentage of cancers (less than 10%) are attributed to genetics. Childhood cancers are usually different than cancers found in adults and, therefore, require different treatments. The most common childhood cancers are leukemia, brain and spinal cord tumors, neuroblastoma, Wilms tumor, lymphoma (including both Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin), rhabdomyosarcoma, retinoblastoma, and bone cancer (including osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma).
I’ve talked a lot about statistics and facts. Those things are important to know, but it’s vital to remember that behind every statistic is a child who is someone’s daughter or son, a grandchild, a brother or sister, a classmate, or a best friend. Sadly, my sweet neighbor Brylee is a statistic, but she is so much more.
Brylee was part of a big, blended family who all adored her and worked together to support her during her years of treatment. She was part of our neighborhood and community and was admired, loved, and cheered on by the members of “BryleeBrave.” Brylee loved all animals, riding horses, and snuggling with her dog on the couch. She loved her brothers and sisters, and they will feel her absence profoundly. Brylee was obsessed with dinosaurs of all kinds, and The Land Before Time was her favorite movie. Brylee was a beautiful child who touched the hearts of everyone she met.
Please remember Brylee when you see the yellow childhood cancer ribbons or see fundraising efforts for St. Jude’s Hospital. There has been significant progress in the war against childhood cancers, but the fight will not be over until no more children lose their lives to this terrible disease and until no other parents have to bury their child.
I’ll leave you with these words from Brylee’s favorite movie, The Land Before Time.
It is nobody’s fault. The great circle of life has begun. But see, not all of us arrive together at the end. And you’ll always miss her. But she’ll always be with you, as long as you remember the things she taught you. In a way, you’ll never be apart, for you are still part of each other.