"It's as personal as it can get. There are good days and bad ones, but it's a very personal fight worth staying in the long run for. He's my grandson and I love him so much."
Cliff Rushin is an attentive grandfather who plays a critical role in the care of his 12-year-old bright and, in many ways, typical grandson Austin. I had the honor of meeting both individuals at a recent event that aimed to spotlight awareness of childhood cancer. Austin has been diagnosed with a rare pediatric bone cancer that requires him to frequently visit various doctors. I witnessed the vivacious preteen in action as he interacted with family, friends and mere strangers. Even with the diagnosis and countless medical procedures, Austin struck me as energetic, upbeat and receptive. Rushin did remind me first hand that there are days when his grandson gets weary about everything going on with his health but he finds a way to push on.
According to the National Cancer Institute, around 15,000 new cases of childhood cancer are diagnosed annually. Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease past infancy among kids in the United States. Childhood cancer is a very serious topic that often appears to stay distant in the minds of many who don't first hand experience it. Yet, it can literally hit any family unit at anytime. And as scary as this fact is, there are courageous individuals who remind us that there is unbreakable strength in hope. I was moved by the testimony of Edna King who shared with me the joy of her daughter Mary Evelyn. Although she was just 8 years old when she passed away from neuroblastoma, a cancer that grows from immature nerve cells, her mother fondly recalls a happy little girl who just wanted to be a normal kid. "Mary Evelyn was a terrific daughter. She taught us all about the true meaning of life."
"We gave it our best fight," says King. Mary Evelyn's mother has some powerful words for all of us. She believes we shouldn't get so caught up in the mundane components of life. "Just enjoy life itself and know there is a purpose to it all. Let's inspire each other." Sharing her experiences to help another concerned guardian is exactly what Caroll Longknecker is determined to do. She is the primary caretaker for her 9-year-old grandson Reece who was diagnosed a year ago with cancer after visiting over a dozen medical providers who couldn't exactly figure out what was going on with him. Reece complained of severe headaches, which sparked his concerned maternal grandmother to find an answer. "It was a very frustrating process for us. I was even told that my grandson was making the symptoms up to get my undivided attention. I knew he wasn't making up his pain. It didn't make any sense."
Eventually, the cancer diagnosis was revealed to the family. He has a tumor on his brain that's so rare there isn't an official medical name yet. He has compromised vision due to the tumor. Reece is a pleasant boy who seems to enjoy the company of his doting family. Longknecker is one committed advocate for childhood cancer awareness. "If it doesn't sit right in your soul, reject it and keep pushing. Follow your gut, regardless of who is saying otherwise." There is so much to be learned from this adoring grandmother and all of the other nameless family members who take this tough journey. So many words can describe the love these brave guardians have for their kids. Yet, one word stands the test of time for me. The word is enduring. It's a powerful word to describe powerful people.
* September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. I would like to acknowledge those who tirelessly care for the children, including dedicated medical professionals. Lastly, I salute event organizers who work behind the scenes to present community gatherings to allow all of us to gain knowledge. A big thanks to Charles and Travis for helping me share powerful testimonies with this world. Keep pushing...