From The Founder's Desk
It’s childhood cancer month; and my team had requested that I share a personal message. A request I struggled with for a long time… You see, for a while now, I have functioned on not expressing myself when it pertains to cancer, and especially in children. I have absorbed the shocks and observed the victories and boxed them all up to be dealt with one day when I feel less likely to break down in the face of it all. But as I began to reflect on it all, I realized that the good always outweighs the bad… I tried to label my feelings, tried to put a name to the things that I have witnessed or experienced in the course of my work with people living with cancer… I find that it is a living breathing entity with specific attributes, come of which I have pondered upon below:
Whilst cardiovascular disease kills far more people than cancer, it certainly does not carry with it the fear and stigma that cancer does. Why is this? Because cancer is just so unpredictable. There is no rhyme or reason… and in the majority of cases; no ‘certain’ way to protect yourself. Sure, we oncologists love to talk about risk factors. We love to tout the words ‘get screened’. But the truth is we all have seen someone do all the right things and develop cancer at 30 years, whilst someone else does all the ‘wrong’ things and lives to the nice old age of 90years in perfect health…
Cancer is cruel. As the news broke only a few days ago, of another shining light taken away by cancer, I was reminded about what I hate most about cancer. The cruelty of it all: stealing futures, cutting potential short, snuffing out dreams. I was reminded of the unrelenting, infuriatingly persistent nature of a disease that would defy every known form of treatment until it at last sucks the last gasp of life out of its unwilling host. Cancer is cruel.
There is no denying that working with children and families living with cancer involves unprecedented exposure to human suffering; often as much emotional as physical. And yes, I have witnessed a great deal of suffering. But no suffering I have witnessed, is a match for the other things I have seen.:
I say all the time, children do not ask ‘why me?’ They do not feel sorry for themselves. They don’t give up, they simply do not understand the concept of giving up, it does not occur to them. There is no bitterness, no anger, no regret. There is only hope in the eyes of that child. Hope for one pain-free day. Hope that one day soon, they will get to play outside/go back to school. I once asked young child living with cancer what he wanted most in the “whole wide world”. He responded without a beat: ‘for my mummy to be happy’. How many adults can say that the one thing want they most in the world is someone else’s happiness. Children are just so pure, and that’s what makes them tough as diamonds. That’s the source of their resilience.
The resolute commitment of an extraordinary team, made up of ordinary individuals, working against often unimaginable and uncountable odds, pulling and pooling every resource, every trick, every effort, to ensure the delivery of global standard-of-care treatments in resource-deprived conditions. The refusal to fold their arms and shrug, to throw hands in the air and give up. The hope that one day things will be better, but until then; by God, they will make the best of what they have.
The unbridled joy of a child opening up her end-of-treatment gift. A small token to celebrate the latest milestone in her journey. She’s had 24 weeks of chemotherapy, painful abdominal surgery, nausea-inducing radiation treatments, and more chemotherapy to look forward to. But she squeals with the purest joy at the sight of a small ‘doll’. … It beggars the imagination.
The true, real, deep, unconditional, break down all walls, climb all mountains, walk into the fire; jump in front of a bus for you; love. I have witnessed it in the mothers as they hold their children. In the fathers as they give up everything for their child. I see it in the parents who would trade places with their child in a heartbeat if they could. In grandparents; true friends, and family who rise up and stand firm, an unyielding support system built on love. Oh the love!
The passion of TDCF team members who keep pushing. We’ve held each other and had a good cry sometimes. Other times we’ve pumped each other up and spent minutes in the ‘superhero pose’ just before getting up and going. One thing remains true always, nobody here is play-acting. I see it in the volunteers who work with no expectation of compensation, and in a pediatric oncologist who never ever, gives up on a patient. The passion is real.
Cancer is a journey, and there is no skipping steps… the treatments, the appointments, the tests, the scans, more treatments… they all add up to one thing: improved survival. I have come to trust the process. It can be slow, tedious, frustrating, filled with twist and turns; but to have any chance at all, you must respect the process.
Yes, I feel blessed. Blessed to have met these heroes. Blessed to have met their equally heroic parents. Blessed to be surrounded by a committed, competent, conscientious team of individuals who go beyond job descriptions, beyond KPIs. Blessed to be part of the journey of pain, of tears, of loss. Blessed to be part of the journey of hope, of love, of strength, of human will. Blessed to have been granted the opportunity to be useful. Blessed to be a blessing.
It is not appropriate to say ‘happy childhood cancer month’
And so I leave you with these words:
“Non nobis solum nati sumus”…
“Not for ourselves alone, are we born”
With Love and gratitude for all your support over the years
Stay safe, and blessed,