By Tamar Petty

This is the last picture taken of Leah (and myself) before our world was turned on end by childhood cancer on January 26, 2012. It was taken at a birthday party that was filled with fun activities, but not enjoyed by my daughter. She spent much of the party wanting to be held like this. That’s part of what prompted me to call the pediatrician the following morning. After another appointment of not “finding” anything wrong, the doctor recommended we draw some blood. Later, my pediatrician would tell me she had spun the blood five times, hoping that the result would change. It did not.

We were referred to Brenner Children’s Hospital Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic for more detailed blood work. Best case scenario: testing would confirm Leah had mono (which would account for her persistent tiredness); worst case: leukemia.

I stayed focused on the best case option until the new blood work came back. The pediatric oncologist said the results showed nothing “abnormal” yet, NO ONE in the room was smiling, including my husband (an adult oncologist). That’s when I KNEW something was very wrong. A spinal tap was performed and we went home to wait the results. A few hours later, as Leah woke from her nap screaming and with a fever, I called my husband. I caught him as he was driving home. He had gotten the “report” from the pediatric oncologist and was coming home to tell me in person. My call had caught him off guard. I heard the urgency in his voice, “I’m almost home!” I asked, “What is it?” His answer, “It’s leukemia.”

In an instant, our life changed. The month of September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Did you know???

• More kids are lost to cancer in the U.S. than to any other disease.
• Worldwide, a new child is diagnosed with cancer every 3 minutes.
• In the U.S., 46 kids will be diagnosed every school day.
• Nationally, childhood cancer is 20 times more prevalent than pediatric AIDS. Yet, pediatric AIDS receives four times the funding that childhood cancer receives.

As you increase your awareness, the question remains: What can YOU do to support childhood cancer?

There are many ways, both big and small, you can do to show your support to families like mine, kids like Leah and those who will be forced to walk this same road when they get the diagnosis.

1. GO GOLD! Wear a gold ribbon, tell a friend, change your facebook status or send out a tweet about National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month!
2. Set up a lemonade stand and donate the proceeds to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. You can also make a donation at the register at Toys R Us.
3. Donate whole blood, platelets, or blood products. Our kids need transfusions to keep them alive.
4. Support Kids of Childhood Cancer It is a local organization created by a childhood cancer mom where a majority of the money goes directly to our kids and families at Brenner Children’s Hospital.
5. Hold a bake sale to benefit Cookies For Kids Cancer!
6. Know where your donations are spent when supporting the ‘big’ cancer foundations. You will be surprised.
7. Donate gift cards for families at Brenner Children’s Hospital pediatric oncology unit. Most useful are gas cards, gift cards for food( cafeteria, Subway, or Einstein’s Deli ,located in the hospital or restaurants near/around hospital), parking passes (Yes, parents have to pay to park when their child is hospitalized and it adds up! Purchase at parking lot kiosks and donate to inpatient unit.) or a roll of quarters for vending machines to Brenner Children’s Hospital pediatric oncology department.
8. Shave your head for St Baldrick’s Foundation. Come downtown to Finnigan’s Wake on Saturday, September 28 from 2pm until 6pm. You can watch my son have his head shaved for the second year in a row in honor of his sister! Not ready to shave or out of town? You can support Team Petty by searching for our team by name on St. Baldrick’s website. Money raised will stay here at Brenner’s Pediatric Hematology/Oncology department.
9. Know someone in treatment? Please reach out. Make a phone call (to say you care, not to “get all the details”.) Send a text. Send a card. (Don’t send flowers, though, because they are not allowed because the kids’ suppressed immune systems.) Mow a yard, run errands, take siblings for play date. Try not to ask, “What can I do?” but rather, make specific offers, such as, “I can bring your kid(s) home from school on Mon/Wed/Fri.” or “I can feed and walk your dog for the next 2 weeks, if needed.” Childhood cancer is isolating, lonely and painful. Show you care. It is also LONG. My daughter’s treatment is over 2 years! Continue to offer support, because some of the initial “shock” may wear off, but the road is still long.
10. Share this blog! Easy, right??

Today, Leah is still receiving treatment. She takes most of her chemotherapy drugs at home with periodic blood work and check-ups. Every 3 months she goes in for a high dose injection of chemo and is sedated for a spinal tap where chemo is injected into her spinal cord and circulates to her brain. She will finish treatment on March 29, 2014 and we CAN.NOT.WAIIT! We pray that childhood cancer will be a part of her story later in life, that she was a brave warrior and a survivor! We do not know yet how the story will end. One thing we do know is we have been forever impacted by it and can never go back to being unaware.