As National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month comes to a close, some hopeful news has surfaced, in that the campaign for an end to childhood cancer is stronger than ever. Results from the National Poll on Children's Health, conducted by University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, show that childhood cancer is the top priority for children's health research among adults in the U.S.
Here at Parents, we've been writing about childhood cancer throughout September. And while the month may be ending, the dedication to cancer research and awareness doesn't seem to be waning. So how can you help kids lead healthier, longer lives all year? Read on for ways to make a difference in the lives of children with cancer.
Make Your Voice Heard
Participants in the National Poll on Children's Health have already brought attention to childhood cancer by voicing their concerns.
"Getting people involved in research, whether they're adults or kids, is critically important to advancing medical care," says Matthew Davis, M.D., director of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.
"This [report] highlights the tremendous importance of sustaining and even expanding the national level of research around children's cancer that has been threatened by recent federal budget cuts and recent downturns in the economy," Dr. Davis says.
Many obstacles are keeping childhood cancer research from advancing, but reports like this can spur lawmakers to act.
"Society needs to recognize that there should be a resolution to the frustrations among the pediatric cancer community that they can't always get a drug available to try to help a child," says Larry E. Kun, M.D., clinical director and executive vice president chair at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. "It's a given in adults, but because of the relatively small cohort [of children with cancer], it's very frustrating for us." But, he notes, even if the number of children with cancer is relatively small, "it seems very large when it's a child you know or a child of your own."
Dr. Kun suggests seeking out advocacy groups in your area where parents are working toward legislative support. Make a phone call, send an email or start an online petition to let your state representatives know that childhood cancer should be at the forefront of medical research.
Do Your Homework
Donating to worthy causes is one of the simplest ways to help those in need. But sadly, not all organizations are what they seem to be. Make sure any organization that receives your donations has a strong history of helping others and giving funds directly to research and medical care. Dr. Kun recommends donating to organizations with specific expertise in pediatric care for children with cancer, and with a large number of highly trained subspecialists. To assess a charity you're interested in helping out, check out Charity Navigator to ensure your money is going to the right place.
Use Your Talents
You don't have to have a background in medicine to make a difference for children living with cancer, nor do you need a huge pocketbook. Some of the best childhood cancer awareness efforts function on a grassroots level.
Organizations like St. Baldrick's are famous for their head-shaving events that promote solidarity and awareness, but they also encourage people to do what they do best in raising money, whatever that may be. Organize a fundraiser block party or rummage sale, or start a social media campaign. And even if you and your children are in good health, the whole family can often participate in studies that will help researchers better understand childhood cancer.
Get the Kids Involved
Kathleen Ruddy, CEO of the St. Baldrick's Foundation, knows that it can be difficult for parents to talk to their children about peers their age fighting cancer. "But the fact is, kids are smart, and they might have grandparents who have cancer, they might have a neighbor who has cancer, or they might know about it anyway," Ruddy says. Fortunately, "the beauty of it is that kids want to help."
Ruddy is always pleased to see children who start clubs at their schools and continue their efforts into college and beyond, but teaching kids the value of helping others can be as simple as reaching out to the local hospital to ask about charity drives or volunteer positions. If you want to put your sweet tooth to good use, Cookies for Kids' Cancer and Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation are two organizations that take a tasty approach to helping kids battling childhood cancer by using bake sale-style fundraising.
Whatever you choose to do in helping raise awareness about childhood cancer, both you and your children can feel good about your efforts.
"Parents teaching their kids that they can be leaders and that they can be part of the solution is really powerful," Ruddy says. "It cements in them the desire to do good for life."
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