Carol Biederman wakes every day knowing she is one of the lucky ones. Her son Matt, a fifth-grader at Hillendale Elementary School, is alive. Matt was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at age four, but is in remission today.
And considering the prevalence of childhood cancer - four students in Unionville-Chadds Ford School district currently have it, three in Kennett Consolidated and four in the Avon Grove schools -- many local parents aren't so lucky. Jean Brady of Landenberg, a 1987 graduate of Avon Grove School District, buried her daughter Haley five years ago.
"Chemotherapy on children often results in long-term, lingering physical issues, learning and emotional issues," Carol Biederman said. "Many childhood cancer survivors, including our son, carry the scars of cancer through their childhood into adulthood, changing them forever."
That's why Carol is encouraging local residents to participate in MileStones, a walk to conquer childhood cancer, on Saturday, Oct. 17 at the Riverfront in Wilmington, De. All proceeds will be donated to MileStones.
"We don't know why kids get childhood cancer," said Brady. "That's why we're raising awareness and fund-raising. This is hard for people to put their heads around. Childhood cancer is the number one disease killer of children in the United States."
Parents of children diagnosed with cancer know the toll it takes on their life. Matt underwent three years of chemotherapy during which time he endured countless chemo injections, more than 20 spinal taps and oral chemotherapy nearly every night during the last two years of his treatment. He missed all but eight weeks of kindergarten, 40 days of pre-first, and eight straight weeks his first grade year. And then Matt spend an entire year in isolation, as Carol worried that him getting sick would have dire consequences.
And during this time when Carol and her husband cared for Matt, hoping he would survive, there were bills to be paid and work to be done. The emotional strain it takes can have devastating effects.
But she had great friends, and a supportive school system in Unionville-Chadds Ford. Now, Matt gets straight A's and has earned the Citizenship Award at Hillendale three years running.
With every success story, there's one with a tragic ending. Brady said that with childhood cancer, every child's body reacts differently. Haley's body couldn't tolerate the treatment. "We can't second-guess anything," Jean Brady said. "She couldn't have been given more radiation. She already had radiation burns to the stomach."
Haley was four when she was diagnosed with cancer. She died just 15 months after the diagnosis.
Now, Jean and her husband Matt refuse to let their daughter die in vain, so they help to raise money and awareness of childhood cancer.
"Research and treatment go hand in hand," Jean Brady said. "Research is the key to curing kids with cancer."
Biederman said many drug companies are eager to spend money on breast cancer and ovarian cancer research, but she feels the firms take the position that they'll get bad publicity to focus on childhood cancer. Compounding matters is that because the bodies are so young, radiation treatment on a growing portion could have profound effects.
"An adult's body and brain are fully developed, a child's is not," Carol Biederman said. "Chemotherapy on children often results in long-term lingering physical issues, learning and emotional issues. Many childhood cancer survivors, including our son, carry the scars of cancer throughout their childhood into adulthood, changing them forever."
Biederman and Brady, along with Dawn Greer of Landenberg, whose son Clayton is a cancer survivor, head up the local CureSearch Milestones walk to conquer childhood cancer. They say that because federal funding for childhood cancer research is down - it was $29.1 million in 2003 and just $26 million in 2008 - local efforts must be intensified.
The walk is $10 per person and a registration form is available at www.milestoneswalk,org.