My second tattoo took an hour and a half to complete. An hour and a half of riding this cyclical wave—searing pain followed by bursts of adrenaline, then a strange sense of calm—as the artist worked his needle down the length of my forearm. I marveled at how strong I felt, how invincible, when just that morning I’d nearly made myself sick just thinking about it.
At about the halfway point, three women came into the tattoo parlor, one holding a baby boy. I cracked a smile at the bizarreness of the sight, but it quickly faded when I noticed the large tumor on the boy’s head. They were all getting matching tattoos in solidarity, something like “for the boy” in Latin. The grandmother volunteered to go first, completely without fear, and suddenly it wasn’t my own strength I was marveling at anymore.
I was reminded of this boy when I read the story of another child with brain cancer, a boy named Gabe, in a current Humans of New York photo series focusing on the pediatric unit of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “The treatment of cancer can be nearly as violent as the condition itself, and even the doctors will frame their efforts in terms of warfare,” writes HONY’s photojournalist Brandon Stanton. “But the fight against pediatric cancer is uniquely tragic because the battlefield is the body of a child.”
Stanton tells Gabe’s story in the six heart-wrenching photos below, from the shock and horror of his diagnosis, to his cancer treatments, to how his mom and dad are coping while living out every parent’s greatest nightmare. Despite it all, the third-grader seems to stay positive, even offering words of advice for parents of children with cancer.
“The hardest part will be seeing your child with a line to a machine that gives them weird medications that might hurt and make them sad,” Gabe says. “Then you can give your child a lot of hugs because that will make them less sad. And your child will say: ‘Don’t worry Mom, I love you and I’m going to make it through this.’ And then you can hug them even more."
HONY is currently holding a fundraiser to help Memorial Sloan Kettering fight pediatric cancers like Gabe’s, with two-thirds of the money going toward research and the remaining third toward psychosocial support for the kids and their families. The campaign far surpassed Stanton’s initial $1 million goal, raising more than $3.6 million in just two weeks. It'll be clear why after you read the following posts.