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February 7, 2013

I Hate Cancer

Cancer is something our family has not had to deal with up-close and personal like so many others.  Because of awareness campaigns (i.e. NFL players wearing pink for the month of October, the St. Jude commercials with celebrities, etc) I don't think there is a person in America who isn't aware of cancer on some level.  Taking it further, with social media we probably all know at least one person and maybe even a child who had to battle the beast of cancer and, in too many cases, lost that battle.  As I write this, I remember children who's lives were cut short because of this horrible disease - and that list is too long. 

I hate cancer. 

Today marks the beginning of Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) awareness week.  Some of you reading this may not be aware that there is such a week.  It may sound as trite as "Save the Albino Alaskan Husky Day", or hearing that someone received a key to your city for raising awareness about the need for larger trash containers.  There always seems to be something that someone is advocating for.  That's how I view it, at least.

Why should this awareness week be any different than the myriad of other days and weeks raising awareness?  What's the point of raising awareness anyway?
Here's why it matters to me, and I hope it will to you.

As awful as childhood cancer is, congenital heart defects are about 60 times more prevalent according to the American Heart Association.  After looking for reputable mortality comparisons between the two diseases, here's what I found:
  • "In the United States in 2007, approximately 10,400 children under age 15 were diagnosed with cancer and about 1,545 children will die from the disease." Source - Cancer.gov
  • "During the period 1999–2006, congenital heart defects were listed as the main cause of death for 27,960 deaths." Source - CDC.gov
The CDC statistic does not specify an age range for the deaths attributed to CHD's, but it does state that "nearly half (48%) of the deaths due to congenital heart defects occurred during infancy (younger than 1 year of age)."  That comes to approximately 1,917 deaths per year of children under the age of 1 from congenital heart defects.  When you include all of the CHD deaths it comes to nearly 4,000 deaths per year. 

According to these statistics, more children die from CHD's each year than from childhood cancer.

How is that possible?  Why haven't I heard of this before David was born??  Why aren't more people aware of this? 

Simply put, I don't know.

Maybe the pediatric cancer community has a better PR team.  Maybe there's something more gripping about a child who was born healthy but becomes sick as opposed to a child who is sick from birth.  Maybe we are too saturated with awareness campaigns and we simply don't have the reserves to care about them all. 

I don't know. 

What I do know is that some things get us riled up and others don't.  It seems the more "tragic" the incident the more it gets our attention.  Third-world children who die at a rate of 16,000 per day from hunger doesn't have the same effect on us as 20 children who were killed in their classroom by a gunman. 

Why?

Both are equally horrible in their own way.  Why don't we care as much about the children dying in a different country than we do in our own?

The answer to that question, I believe, is also the answer to the question of why some types of childhood diseases get more attention and funding for research than others.  Until it's real to you personally and in your face, the way a beautiful bald little head or a Frankenstein scar on a tiny chest gets your attention, life simply goes on.  The busy day-to-day of our lives takes over and we don't have time to notice or give much thought to these children, be they bald, starving, or scarred from surgeries. 

I'm not asking that you drop everything and become a CHD or cancer or world hunger advocate.  I will ask you to, for this week specifically, consider the impact that a heart defect is having on a family right now and see if there's something you can do about it.  The emotional, financial, and spiritual toll it takes is beyond comprehension.  Go love on these families as we are commanded to do by God when He says, "Love your neighbor as yourself."  If you don't know where to start here are some ideas:
  • There are great national non-profit organizations that minister to families and support research, like Whole Hearts Foundation and Mended Little Hearts.  Make a donation.
  • Check to see if there is a non-profit hospital near you with a cardiology program that you can donate to for research funding.
  • At any nearby hospital with a cardiology program you can bring some food or blankets or gum or any kind of care package to the families in the waiting room.  Include a short note or scripture for encouragement.
  • Buy a parking pass or meal voucher for the week at a nearby hospital and ask the social worker in the cardiology department to give it to a family in need.  Include an anonymous note that states you are praying for them and their child, and follow-through with your prayers.
  • Donate blood, or better yet coordinate a blood drive at your job or in your community.  CHD children use a lot of blood products following surgery.
  • If you're crafty, sew blankets for the hospital to give to their pediatric patients.  Those hospital blankets can be scratchy.  We received some blankets in the hospital that David still uses. 
Do something this week for a CHD child and family.  The best way to raise awareness for congenital heart defects is to make it personal.  Associate 3-dimensional faces with the disease.  See what their battle ground looks like in the hospital.  Then encourage others to do the same.  Next week or month, do the same thing for a cancer child and family.  After that make a donation to World Vision or sponsor a child. 

The bottom line is we can't continue to be blind to the suffering of others, regardless of what that suffering looks like or where it comes from if we claim to be followers of Christ.  Go out and put your faith, your emotions, your beliefs into action.  Do something.  God will use it in ways that you may never know, but trust that He will use it.  We are the soldiers.  He is our King.  Go and represent Him well!