Former President Barack Obama announced in 2012 that September would be national childhood cancer awareness month to acknowledge those affected by pediatric cancer. Here on campus we are helping spread awareness to pediatric cancer patients.
According to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, pediatric cancer is the leading cause of death by disease for children under the age of 14. In the U.S. alone, about 15,780 children up to age 19 are diagnosed with cancer. The most common cancers found in children are leukemia, neuroblastoma and bone cancer.
Common treatment includes radiation and chemotherapy, which can be aggressive on a child’s growing body. Using these aggressive forms of treatment can affect the child's brain, cardiovascular system, hearing, growth and reproduction systems.
However, these two treatments are usually successful to kill the cancer cells, but the long-term effects of the treatments are the greatest concern. Pediatric patients do yearly checkups with their oncologists to make sure the effects don’t get worse. Many doctors aren’t worried about the tumor cells growing back in the same place but instead if it relapses in the lungs.
Studies found that more African American and Hispanic children die from cancer than white children. A Michigan State University and Spectrum health study found 8.5% of African American and 8.1% of Hispanic children with cancer died after admission to pediatric intensive care units, compared to 6.3% of white children.
Without access to primary care, many of these children are in the advanced stages of their illness when they are admitted to the hospital.
According to NPR, a child’s socioeconomic status is one of the key factors to why the survival rate is low. People with lower socioeconomic status are most likely living in poverty. They are exposed to more carcinogens than more affluent people.
IU Dance Marathon, an on-campus non-profit organization run by students, raises money and awareness every year for the Riley Children’s Hospital. There are more than 4,000 students and 1,200 committee members involved.
IUDM said on its website it has raised over $43 million for Riley Children’s Hospital since 1991. The dance marathon is a 36-hour event where students are on their feet dancing, participating in games and listening to the stories from Riley families. Some of the highlights of this event include the Riley Kid Talent Show, a basketball tournament and a rave. About 75% of the proceeds raised goes to pediatric cancer research with the rest going to pro bono cases for people who can’t afford the medical bills.
IU senior Grace Ybarra became involved with the group freshman year when a friend encouraged her to join. Since joining, Ybarra said she sees the effect the group has on the families the children’s hospital helps, and this is the encouragement to keep on doing it.
“The reason I started is different from the reason now,” she said. She is now the vice president of communications for IUDM.
IU senior Ishran Sransaid watching his 5-year-old cousin suffer from pediatric cancer overseas in India and the lack of resources hospitals had to treat cancer is what made him join IUDM.
“Seeing him in that position and my family not able to get the same treatment as kids in America is what made me join,” he said.
IUDM is not only impactful in the lives of families and children who suffer from pediatric cancer, but to the students who are helping raise money for those kids. When you think there is nothing to celebrate in September, celebrate childhood cancer month and reflect on how you can make an impact on a child’s life.
Editor’s Note: Grace Ybarra previously worked at the Indiana Daily Student.