For Emma (Childhood Cancer Awareness)

September 26, 2014


For those of you who might not know, this is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. September’s color is gold, which is symbolically apt in a number of ways. Most importantly, because it represents something of great and lasting value. Emma Grace Mitchell was just such a treasure, even though she preferred pink and purple herself. Nine days ago, she succumbed to a disease she had heroically fought for nearly half of her life, a life that was marred not only by the disease itself, but by the treatments-and side effects thereof-which sap the health and alter the lives of the patients subjected to them. Undergoing chemotherapy is an experience whose physical and emotional ramifications are inconceivable, thankfully, for most of us. But experiencing it when your baby teeth are barely older than you are is something too heartbreaking for words.

Cancer also impacted the life of my cousin Sean Mellon and his family, one of scores across this country and planet dealing with a grief that you can never properly prepare for. The limited medical options available to families caring for children with cancer is sobering for anyone who has given an even cursory examination to the numbers.  That’s why the need to marshal more resources against this disease, and bring more concentrated attention to the dire consequences involved for those children with cancer, is so urgent. To that end, St. Baldrick’s has begun the You Are My Hero campaign, which seeks to harness the power of social media to raise money for children’s cancer research.

Another way you can join the effort is by contributing to Children’s of Alabama Brain Cancer Research, UAB Department of Pediatric Oncology Research, a request by Emma Mitchell’s family, which has described how you can do so in Emma’s obituary. I’d also suggest joining the Facebook group established for Team Emma, which was not simply an online community devoted to supporting a remarkable young girl struggling with a remorseless disease and its intolerable impact, but a wellspring of hope and strength for people across the country. It’s a great way of learning about an amazing individual who deserved more time with her big sister, tenacious mother, and loving family, but also the indescribably giving, compassionate and resourceful community that arose in the wake of her cancer diagnosis and subsequent struggles.

More than anything, I urge you to take some time to learn more about the struggle families like the Mitchells go through in order to preserve some semblance of normality in lives that are anything but normal. Even cancer families whose children emerge victorious from their battles with this disease endure years of physical and emotional challenges away from the spotlight. Mary Tyler Mom is a blog which recounts the harrowing journeys of some of these children. Emma was a very special girl; unfortunately, the cause of her suffering and her family’s grief is not unique.

If cancer doesn’t impact you or your family directly, then you’re a very lucky person. That said, I would still urge you to read some of the stories from families who have been devastated by this constellation of diseases, if only to become aware of a problem that needs a lot more attention than it currently receives, and to see how strength persists even under the most heart-rending, catastrophic circumstances.


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