Childhood cancer, Parenting

My son survived – why bother pushing for research?

A few months ago I attended at conference on Accelerating the Development of New Oncology Drugs for Children and Adolescents. The first day was packed with fascinating, complicated presentations all revolving around the issue of how to get new drugs and new treatments available in order to save more children with cancer.

Later that evening, I sat in the bar with several parents, oncologists and industry reps, as we discussed the need for research.

Many of the parents attending that meeting had lost their child to cancer. They were there because they are committed to making a difference for other kids-  the kids diagnosed today, the ones of tomorrow.

At one point, a person (not a cancer-parent) asked me why, since my son had survived, I was so committed to advancing research.

It’s one of those questions that, when asked, feels like the answer is so obvious that you actually struggle to put words on it.

Why am I involved? Is it my place to be part of this battle?

My son Elliot was in treatment for almost a year, along with several other kids. I made good friends during those long days spent at the hospitals, friendships are forged in those difficult moments that are unlike any from the outside world.

Even my online friends, many of whom I actually met for the first time at the conference in Brussels, feel like people I have known for ages.

And it’s true, while many of these friends have lost their child, mine survived.

So I don’t have the grief that they do. I don’t have that intense pain that they all carry and hold tight within them, surviving every day, every moment, by taking one step at a time.

I feel incredibly sad for the loss of their children but to say I feel anything remotely close to what they feel would be wrong.

I don’t have the grief they carry. I am so incredibly lucky, because it is a grief that is incomparable to anything else, that I can sense and understand, but not really feel.

But I do grieve. I am sad and angry. Sometimes overwhelmingly so. Just not for the same reasons.

I don’t grieve for the loss of a child.

I grieve for them. These parents. These moms and dads who have suffered the loss of a child. My friends, who suffer, and will continue to suffer, even though they all bravely get up every day and choose to make the best of the day and try to look for the sun shining.

While I may not feel the loss of a child, I know what it is to visit a little girl’s grave with her mom. To pick a few weeds from between the flowers, to straighten the candles and dust the light snow off the little teddy bear sitting there. I know what it is to talk to someone who’s child had the same cancer as Elliot and didn’t survive. The injustice. I know a friend relives the last moments of her child’s life when she closes her eyes sometimes at night. I have another friend who is haunted by those last moments because the palliative care was not up to par. I have a friend who was by her son’s bedside when I first started to write this article (it always takes me several days to complete as I proofread several times) for his last few days, as the osteosarcoma he had could not be cured. He’s gone now.

Osteosarcoma, which has seen almost no change in treatment in decades. The same chemotherapies thrown desperately at the same cancer cells, which hold them back for a little while until they adapt and come back even stronger.

I feel such anger, sadness and frustration about this.

I don’t want to watch any more moms lose their child. I don’t want to hear any more dads talk about their son in the past tense. I can’t. I won’t.

I have to make a difference.

That’s why.

3 thoughts on “My son survived – why bother pushing for research?”

  1. Trudy McGregor, Proud mother of Tyler McGregor... cancer survivor 2010...Canadian Paralympian 2014 says:

    Thank you for your post Nicole. I feel the same, as I too have a son that survived childhood cancer. Many people have asked me over the years why I can’t simply walk away from childhood cancer; forget and move on. Forget the pain and suffering, forget the children that have died and are still dying of cancer? To do that, I would have to pretend that 2010 never happened, pretend that my son never had cancer, pretend that he didn’t really lose his leg, pretend that he is who he is today just because he was lucky enough to turn out that way. I’m not sure how anyone can ever walk away from childhood cancer and forget like it never happened. Once you enter into this world you can never go back, you cannot turn your back on these children and their families. They need us for nothing more that hope itself. Hope that there will be better drugs in the future, hope that there will be a better chance of survival for their child, and hope that they are not battling this on their own. Thank you for all you do.

  2. Oh, Nicole, you can move mountains with your words, with your intelligence and focus, with your diligence and skills, and most of all, with your compassion for children and families touched by cancer. I am 100% in support of anything you do.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing. I feel the same as you do & echo the comments above. How can anyone ever turn their back on childhood cancer after experiencing it with their own child. I, too, have been blessed with having a surviving daughter. Our children received their successful treatment because of past generations raising awareness & funding for research. We have to pay it forward! Thank you for all that you do to help raise awareness & fight childhood cancer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.