We celebrated my daughter’s 5th birthday this weekend, which makes this an awkward time to write a Donna Day post. Donna Day is a day to celebrate a young girl named Donna, but Donna never got to celebrate her 5th birthday. Donna died when she was four. Donna had cancer.
Yes, this is a post about kids with cancer. Yes, that’s sad and unpleasant to think about. Please keep reading anyway. It’s important.
When I first read Donna’s Cancer Story my daughter was around the age that Donna was when her cancer was diagnosed. It was chilling to realize how suddenly the life of a child and her family can change so dramatically.
I’ve often thought of the ways Donna was similar to my daughter. Similar except Donna, in addition to loving dance and the color black, had to deal with cancer, invasive treatments, and too frequent hospitals stays.
Now the contrasts are even more stark. My daughter had a 5th birthday party, and Donna did not. My daughter is alive, and Donna is not.
No matter how beautifully and openly Sheila, a.k.a. Donna’s mom, a.k.a. Mary Tyler Mom, writes about her grief I know I cannot fully understand what she feels, and I don’t wish to. But Sheila is not alone, and I don’t just mean the company of Donna’s dad and Donna’s brothers (one of whom Donna never met).
Every three minutes a child is diagnosed with cancer. That’s a lot of cancer moms and cancer dads and cancer kids. Even when the kids are lucky enough to survive, their lives and their bodies are forever changed.
Since having the pleasure of getting to know Sheila she has taught me a number of important lessons. Here are a few:
- Say the name of children (or anyone) who has died. They deserve to be remembered.
- Childhood cancer is different than grown up cancer, in part because of the challenge of aggressively treating cancer in bodies that are still developing. (Read more about how childhood cancers are different than adult cancers here.)
- Childhood cancer research is disproportionately underfunded compared to other cancers. (Read about the funding gap for childhood cancer research here.)
Those lessons may seem rather dire, but here is something else Sheila taught me:
- Choose hope.
No one can change Donna’s story, but we can choose to hope for happier outcomes for other kids. We can choose to fight for more birthdays and fewer funerals. We can choose to support childhood cancer research, which is why I, and so many other bloggers, write on Donna Day to help raise money for this very worthy cause.
For a 5th year, Donna’s family is hosting a head shaving event to raise money for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization that funds research focusing on finding better treatments or, ideally, cures for childhood cancers. Click here to donate.
If you will be in Chicago on March 19th, join Donna’s family in person at Candlelite Chicago (7452 N. Western Ave.) from 2:00-4:00 pm, or if you are really brave, sign up to be a shavee. The event information is here.
No one wants to think about kids getting cancer, but the reality is that kids get cancer. Please give. Do it for Donna. Consider it a belated birthday present.
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