September is a special time of year that provides us with the unique opportunity to reflect on the impact that pediatric, adolescent, and young adult (PAYA) cancer has on all of us. As a society, there tends to be a larger focus on adult cancers, due to the volume and publicity associated with them. What PAYA cancer cases lack in volume, however, they more than make up for in the impact that they have on the lives of the individuals going through the struggle, as well as the lives of those around them. However, there are major improvements in PAYA research that can be made which might make all the difference going forward.
As a survivor of cancer myself, I know the reality all too well. I was diagnosed with AML Leukemia on October 2, 2008 – at the time I was 14 years old and had just started my freshman year of high school. As if trying to find new friends and fit in wasn’t hard enough, I had to deal with the stresses and uncertainty that came along with cancer as well. Life was certainly hard in these times, not only for myself, but also for my parents and others around me. My parents found ways to be at the hospital as much as possible while also balancing work and three other children; how they did it, I will never know. With the help and support of many, we got through our tough time; however, it is a situation that I would never wish on anyone, and that is why it is absolutely imperative that we continue to work towards increased funding and research for PAYA cancer.
I know the personal impact of PAYA cancer, but I also know the impact that PAYA research has on outcomes. The preferential treatment for me would have been a bone marrow transplant, however there was no match for me in the registry, and so I was forced to go ahead with strictly chemotherapy for my treatment. Since this is not the traditional or preferred method, my doctors offered that I try an extra experimental chemotherapy on top of the standard regiment. For me, the drugs were incredibly successful, and I was in remission after just one round of treatment – making me a firm believer in the power of research and experimental treatments.
Since PAYA cancer research is what helped me to survive, it has inspired me to take up the challenge of giving back to the cause, so that I can help others who might be in the unfortunate situation that I was once in. Thanks to the Steven G Foundation, I had the opportunity to do research on pediatric Medulloblastoma tumors in the lab of Dr. Alex Huang for the past two summers. It was truly an incredible experience, and to know that I was helping to give back to a cause that had given so much to me was very rewarding.
Now, I realize that not everyone out there has a personal tie with PAYA cancer, so you might be thinking, what’s my motivation? Why should I help the cause? Well, I very truly hope that no one reading this ever has to have any interaction with PAYA cancer. However, at this point, the best that we can do is hope. Why not guarantee that you will never have to be afraid of PAYA cancer? If we all work together, one day, we will be able to find a way to know cancer so well that it won’t be any more concerning than providing antibiotics for a common cold. That’s what I’m working toward. I work toward a day when parents will never have to live through the torment of watching their sick child pass away with nothing that can be done for them. I want to put an end to cancer. I hope that I can convince others to have the same goal.
A cure certainly isn’t going to happen overnight. The problem is complex – more complex than almost any other within the medical field. Also, PAYA is at a definite financial disadvantage. I mentioned earlier that adult cancers receive much more attention. Well, they also receive much more private and government funding for research. However, we should not be discouraged. There are still many factors on our side. The resilience of young people is something that can never be underestimated. Their hope in the future provides them with the attitude to persevere, even in the toughest circumstances. All that we need to do is to try our best to help with that fight. If the funding for PAYA cancer research could be brought up to be even half of what is used on adult cancers, the results could be life-changing – literally. Also, we cannot forget the importance of those who do the research. Without them, the goal can never be accomplished. This issue is too big to be solved by just one person; we need more researchers out there. To me, they are some of the most underappreciated heroes in our society. If we are able to make researchers the heroes of our society, then the best and brightest can be attracted to the field, thus helping the research to progress faster and further than ever.
Everyone is capable of making a difference. And it is definitely going to take all the help we can get if we want to put and end to PAYA cancers. I know I’m in, I hope that you will be too.