Sometimes we need an extra nudge, in the form of a thoughtful reminder, that we haven’t recognized something extremely important not only to many of our readers but, in the larger scale of things, important to each of us.
I thank Christina Giorgi of Eddington for reminding us September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in the U.S., as proclaimed by President Barack Obama on Sept. 10 when he stated, in part, “Each year, thousands of children face the battle against cancer with inspiring hope and incredible bravery. When a child is diagnosed with cancer, an entire family and community are affected. The devotion of parents, grandparents, loved ones and friends creates a treasured network of support [for] these courageous children. During National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we honor the young lives taken too soon and the survivors who face chronic health challenges, we celebrate the progress made in treatment and recovery and we rededicate ourselves to fighting this disease so all children may have the chance to live a full and healthy life.”
While the Bangor Daily News had a brief article in 2010 about a University of Maine sorority holding a lemonade sale in recognition of the month to help raise funds to combat pediatric cancer, we have not made note of it this year.
Which brings me to Giorgi’s story of the all-too-brief life of her late son, Nicholas Aiden Laplante, who was just 14 months old when he died in 2008 of a rare form of childhood cancer.
Giorgi wrote the BDN asking simply that we remind readers about Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Giorgi asked us “for help in raising awareness for this horrible disease that is taking too many of our children.”
When I spoke with her, I learned it was 12 days after his first birthday, on Aug. 29, at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, that Nicky was diagnosed with atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor which, Giorgi said, is an extremely rare cancer usually striking children under 3 and having a very low survival rate.
Nicky was immediately transferred to Children’s Hospital Boston where he underwent surgery; was started on chemotherapy and remained in the intensive care unit until his death Oct. 8.
“Imagine, for one minute, that it was your child, your grandchild or any child in your family that was diagnosed with cancer,” she wrote.
“Imagine the helplessness that every parent feels after learning that they will outlive their child; that they will have to have their baby’s body filled with poison; needle sticks too many to count; blood draws and transfusions; all the while smiling and being more brave than any superhero. That those parents have to look their child in the eye as they ask if they’re going to die, and why they’re sick.”
Giorgi reminds us of the suffering parents go through as their little one suffers even more; knowing, as parents, you are “helpless to stop it” and, ultimately, facing the death of your child.
“The fight against cancer is a battle no child should ever have to face,” Giorgi wrote. “No baby should fight so hard to live; and no parent should watch their baby die.”
She reminds us of the most recent statistics available online, that 46 children are diagnosed with cancer every day and that seven of them die each day.
And, she wrote, unlike other, equally worthy causes, there is no particular “color for childhood cancer” to help raise, and maintain, awareness of this disease.
Nicky’s rare form of childhood cancer does have a possible genetic link, Giorgi told me, so the family, which includes 13-year-old Selenia Giorgi and 20-month old Alia-Marie Laplante, have all been tested “and everyone is fine.”
As this family struggled to overcome the loss of their little one, they were grateful for the love and support of family, friends and others who helped them along the way.
Selenia, her mother said, “was fortunate to find Pathfinders,” which is a local organization founded by two Bangor women that provides support for grieving children.
As September draws to a close, we open our hearts to this family and all families who either have a child with cancer or who have lost a child to cancer, and Giorgi leaves you with these words attributed to an anonymous writer:
“My heroes don’t wear capes. They don’t fly or have superpowers. They can’t stop speeding bullets. My heroes, they do even better stuff. They have chemicals poured into their bodies, they withstand being poked and prodded multiple times a day, they push limits to find their strength and they do it with a smile! My heroes are the kids who fight cancer, who have no clue what is going to happen every day.”