As a cancer researcher, the research in my lab applies to all human cancer, but I feel especially strongly about fighting childhood cancer.
One childhood experience in particular may have influenced me in this regard.
When I was about 13 some friends of the family had a baby. Let’s call her “Suzy” (Not her real name of course). Everyone was really thrilled and excited for the new family.
Suzy was one in a million. Talking up a storm at age 3 and beginning to read even.
Suzy was also diagnosed with leukemia at age 3.
Despite the best efforts of medicine back then in the 1970s, Suzy pass away from the disease.
Somehow I really felt connected to Suzy even though she wasn’t a relative. I thought of her as a friend despite my being 10 years older. Part of it I think was because she was so engaging and an amazing talker despite being so young.
Her death was hard on me.
It was the first time in my life that I could remember that someone that I felt connected to had died. It was more than that. In my mind she was killed by the cancer. It was a realization my part of what the word “cancer” meant.
At age 13, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, being equally interested in many things, but especially science, medicine, and writing. As time went on, I’ve become more focused on biomedical sciences, but I still write a great deal including this blog.
However, my passion was science and especially cancer and cancer stem cell researcher.
I’ve spent most of my career in one form or another studying childhood cancers or key molecules that cause such cancers, particularly one called Myc. I’ve been honored over the years to have met a variety of cancer patients. I’ve also been fortunate to have my research supported by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as a senior postdoc, a few years ago by the Brain Tumor Foundation to study primitive neuroectodermal tumors (which often, but no exclusively afflict children) and now via the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.
Having cancer is terrible and very unfair as I know first hand from my own experience that began in 2009, but it is especially horrible and unfair in my opinion when it happens to kids.
Not only is the disease a nightmare, but also the treatments are very harsh on the kids. Chemo, radiation, surgery….sometimes all three. The kids and their families need our help and support including research.
Research is crucial for giving hope for the future. The reason why the prognosis for many kids with cancer today are far better than in the past is because of past research.
The cancer patients I meet are heroes, but even heroes need help and a team to have their back. It’s an honor to be a researcher helping kids battling cancer.