Bald heads, children laughing, riding bicycles in the hall … these are the images I think of as a day in my life as a pediatric oncology nurse at Seattle Children’s Hospital. These are the moments I have ingrained into my memory when the dark days haunt me. Many of the days are not filled with laughter but rather tears from needle sticks, chemotherapy or bone marrow biopsies. Hard conversations and delivering bad news have become all too normal in my life. I remember holding the hand of a parent when they cried inconsolably after hearing, “Your child has cancer.”

Every three minutes another family somewhere in the world will hear those words. I remember walking into a room and seeing a child take his last breath in the middle of the night as his dad finally slept for the first time in days. Having to wake up a father to tell him, “I’m sorry your child is gone,” is a task I would not wish on anybody. Children deserve to live a full life, a life without cancer. Parents deserve to watch their children grow up.

September was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, yet many are not aware of the profound impacts of pediatric cancer. One month of awareness in a year is not sufficient to raise enough money to develop improved treatment options with reduced lifelong toxicities.

Every day 43 children are diagnosed with cancer in the United States, and pediatric cancer is the leading cause of disease death in children ages 1-14. Treatments of pediatric cancers are aggressive and result in impacts to normal development, toxicities to the heart, liver, kidneys and reproductive organs. Cancer treatment results in numerous intolerable side effects including intractable vomiting, mouth sores, bone pain, infections, hair loss, mood changes … the list is endless.

All of this suffering is for a chance to survive, a chance to make it to their next birthday, a chance to go to prom or to spend one more Christmas with their family. Survival is not a guarantee, but the suffering through treatment is inevitable. More than 95% of childhood cancer survivors have lifelong health issues due to current treatment options.

Annually, the government spends billions of dollars for cancer research. The sad truth of that spending is that only 4% of the budget is designated for pediatric cancers. Why is it that the No. 1 cause of disease death in children only receives 4%?

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Those who oppose increasing pediatric cancer funding argue that fewer children are diagnosed with cancer than women with breast cancer, for example. However, the potential years of life lost is greater in pediatric patients because the average age of diagnosis is 10 years old, compared to 61 in breast cancer patients. 

Breast cancer is the sixth most common cause of disease death in women, but pediatric cancer is No. 1 among all children. This comparison is not meant to minimize the importance of breast cancer funding but rather to emphasize the importance of increasing pediatric cancer research funding because of its devastating impacts on our youth.

We need to bring more awareness to pediatric cancer, demand more research funding at the federal level, and get our communities involved to advocate for children suffering from cancer. I ask you to contact your local congressional representatives and request their support in allocating more funding to pediatric cancer research. I challenge you to donate to the Pediatric Oncology Branch of the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research, or give locally to Seattle Children’s Hospital Pediatric Cancer Research Program. 

One month of awareness is not enough for the 43 children diagnosed every day, and 4% a year is not adequate monetary support to develop improved lifesaving treatments. Together, we can make a change by increasing awareness and financial support. If your child was one of the 43 today, wouldn’t you want them to have a fighting chance?