Why You Think You Don’t Know a Childhood Cancer Survivor

Steve McKinionUncategorized0 Comments

…but you may.

The childhood cancer community sometimes seems to be a secret society. I had know of kids with cancer, but not many. My cousin’s son had been fighting leukemia for a few years before Harrison was diagnosed, and our family prayed for little Eli regularly. I recall, especially as a kid, seeing buckets in convenience stores asking for donations to help kids with cancer, but I didn’t know any of them.

Strangely, once Harrison was diagnosed, people “came out” as survivors. I was shocked. Suddenly, I began discovering the thousands of kids and families fighting cancer. But after talking to survivors and their parents I’ve discovered four reasons why I didn’t know them before.

1) Until recently most kids with cancer died. Thankfully, survival rates ha e risen for many pediatrics cancers in the last few decades. Children who would be my age who were diagnosed as kids had little chance of surviving.

2) Those who did live want to forget. Treatment for childhood cancer is a hell on earth for kids and their families. Once treatment is over no one wants to talk about it. It reminds me of soldiers returning from war. My grandfather fought in Europe during World War ll. He never talked about it. When you’ve endured unspeakable horrors you aren’t left with much to say.

3) Survivors and their parents always fear relapse. Pediatrics oncologists never use the world cure. Kids may not die from the treatment, and may live into adulthood but they are never free of the anxiety due to cancer’s proclivity to return. There is no “Mission Accomplished” to mark the end of battle. Every year for the remainder of their lives they will be tested for relapse. Parents of childhood cancer survivors face that fear for the rest of their lives. You’ll not hear many of them talking about it.

4) You wouldn’t understand them if they told you their story anyway. As a patristics scholar I could talk for hours with you about the development of doctrine, Attick Greek syntax, or the details of the Nestorian Controversy, but you wouldn’t understand, any more than I would understand nuclear physics. So I don’t bore you. The same is true for many parents of survivors and the survivors themselves. Even if they wanted to talk about the horrors of the childhood cancer community, you wouldn’t understand. It’s not your fault. You have experiences they wouldn’t get. So you don’t talk about them.

The father of a little girl in Harrison’s class at school emailed me not long after Harrison’s diagnosis with this message:

When I was a child I also had leukemia. I survived, and went on the play baseball at NC State. Now I have a family of my own.

;

His email was a glimmer of hope in what seemed to be, at the time, a hopeless situation. We have found the stories of survivors to be so encouraging. Those who fought and won carry the pain of their battle for their entire lives. You probably don’t know them, but they are all around you. We thank God both for their victory and their ministry to us and others who are following them on this journey. They are truly paying it forward.

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