For the past several years, I have been posting pictures on Facebook of bald, beautiful children, and except for those of you who know me personally, or for the few hints I’ve thrown here and there, you don’t have any reason to know why I have been so involved with childhood cancer, and more precisely with the American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO).
Three years ago (almost to the date) my oldest daughter Sara, then 11, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. A big, unknown and scary door was suddenly open, but we were lucky: she lost her hair without much trauma, responded fairly well to the treatment, and most of all, she is now cancer free.
Not all the kids are as blessed. Most have treatments that last for months, if not years, and even though there has been great progress made and the survival rate is pretty high, not all the kids make it. Additionally, the short and long term side effects from the treatments can be brutal (We don’t know for sure what’s in for our daughter…)
The thing is, I stepped unwillingly into a world I wish didn’t exist, but where I now choose to stay to help as much as possible (mostly with my camera in hands). The local chapter of ACCO (of the Inland Northwest – ACCOIN), was of great assistance to my family while Sara was in treatment, giving her gifts and helping us with the financial and emotional burdens (and now includes some of my dearest friends). ACCOIN throws parties for the kids, in and out of treatment, twice a year, and the first one my family attended in December, 2010 was life changing. It was beautiful and very moving. Then I did what I do best: I took pictures. Sierra, Gregory, Morgan, Gabby, and so, so many others who have all been such precious teachers to me through their courage, their wisdom and their strength (their parents are pretty awesome, too…).
Then came Marleigh. Marleigh’s mom was approached by ACCOIN a few months ago and asked if she would be interested in having her daughter be the featured child in a book that will be published nation-wide by ACCO (It is destined to help small children newly diagnosed with cancer: through pictures and words, they get an idea of what’s to come, and the familiarity lessens the fear). At that time, Marleigh was in remission, a good news sadly short-lived. We still managed to do the pictures for the book (this four-year-old, beautiful girl was truly amazing through all of it!) and Marleigh is now in Seattle, waiting to start a new chemo on June 8th, and scheduled to receive a bone marrow transplant on June 14th (you can follow her progress on Facebook).
I will never understand why kids get cancer, why they have to suffer so much, but I have come to embrace the idea that when they do, they touch and bring people together in a truly unique and amazing way. Mary Anne, Patty, Ruth, Amber, Liz, Becca and Marleigh, thank you for being in my life.
ps: Childhood cancer awareness is still pretty low. Research always needs more funding, not just to find a cure, but to also make the side effects from chemo and radiation more humane; in addition, parents and siblings need all the support and the love they can get (to that end, here is the link to an article I read not long ago, that has some very good advice: Dana Farber).
If you want to help, ACCO and ACCOIN are a very good start (just follow the links).