by Christie DEL AMO JOHNSON
According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children. Childhood cancer strikes about one out of 300 children. It’s a statistic Labrina Solomon never thought she would become a part of. In August of 2008, her four-year-old son, Joshua, was diagnosed with a rare inoperable brain tumor called brain stem glioma. “Childhood cancer strikes when the child should be going off to school and they should be out playing. It’s devastating and it’s a shock,” says the Macon mom. “When Joshua was diagnosed, we didn’t realize how many kids had cancer.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, “In the United States in 2007 (most recent statistics), approximately 10,400 children under age 15 were diagnosed with cancer, and about 1,545 will die. Although this makes cancer the leading cause of death by disease among U.S. children one to 14 years of age, cancer is still relatively rare in this age group.” These are numbers most people don’t know about, but advocates are using the month of September to change that.
FILLING A NEED
The lack of awareness and the need for support for families with children suffering from cancer is what led Cindy Gaskins to form Jay’s Hope. The idea for the organization came while her son, Jay, was battling cancer. “We just had a support system that was unbelievable, but we sat in waiting rooms and would hear the stories about other mommies and daddies who had to worry about so much more than their child’s treatment,” she says. “How can I stock my pantry? How will I pay my bills?”
Jay passed away after a 2 ½ year battle. In a unique position to know, Gaskins realizes what other families are facing and what some of their needs are; from rolls of quarters for the vending machines at the hospital to babysitters for a parent night out. She says, “God was calling us to give back,” so these are ways her organization reaches out.
FINDING A CURE
Fifty years ago, 10-percent of children survived with cancer. Today, that number has risen to 80-percent. Kristen Conner with CURE Childhood Cancer in Atlanta says the reason cure rates have gone up is because of the collaborative nature of research. “When people think about finding cures and doing research, they think that requires millions of dollars, and they can’t really make an impact,” she says. “It’s a different scenerio when it comes to childhood cancer. Scientists share the research they do and so they have a chance to make an impact much faster.”
The Joanna McAffe Foundation in Warner Robins is one of the many local organizations helping to raise those numbers. Founded by the McAfee family after losing their 6-year-old daughter to the disease. The foundation distributes grants to pediatric cancer researchers. Their biggest fundraiser comes from the “Joanna Tag.” The car tag is available in 149 of the 159 Georgia counties. There are currently 4500 on the road.
“I think it’s unfortunate that we have so much more we need to do to combat childhood cancer,” says the foundation’s public relations director, Tyler Bryant.
It’s been two years since Joshua Solomon passed away. His mother has found her own way to honor his memory. She has started Joshua’s Wish, a non-profit focused on raising funds for pediatric brain tumor research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. Advancements in treatment have dramatically increased survival rates for children with brain tumors, according to the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission. About three out of four children survive at least five years after being diagnosed. Unfortunately, many childhood brain tumor survivors are at risk for long-term neurological complications and will continue to need treatment.
“It’s very, very hard seeing other children with cancer and what they’re going through, but we feel that Joshua’s Wish is what the Lord is calling us to do at this time; to help find a cure,” says Solomon. “Joshua would want us to continue this fight . . . We have to be the voice for these children.”
CHILDHOOD CANCER AWARENESS EVENTS
Community-wide Prayer Service to kick-off Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
September 1st at 6 p.m.
170 Starcadia Circle, Macon
September 17th at 8:30 a.m.
Mercer Law School
1021 Georgia Avenue, Macon
Motorcycle Poker Run
September 24th at 8 a.m.
Joanna McAffe Foundation
1005 Watson Boulevard, Warner Robins
Tribute to Our Quiet Heros: A Luncheon Honoring the Mothers of Children with Cancer
September 14th at 11 a.m.
Grand Hyatt Atlanta
3300 Peachtree Road, Atlanta