Thursday, September 27, 2012

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Did you know that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month? There was a day (actually many, many years) when I didn't. Which I kind of liked, because the fact is I only know this now because in 2008 my second son was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 11.

More than 13,000 children under the age of 21 are diagnosed in the United States each year with some form of cancer. (Point of trivia: once you've crossed into that world, "cancer" becomes a general term that is rarely used. The touchstone is the specific diagnosis--in my son's case, alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma.) That might not seem a particularly large number--and it isn't, not compared to, say, nearly 200,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in a year.

But I am not interested in comparisons. I am interested in individuals. And that means childhood cancer is an issue near and dear to my heart. And I have a story to share, and a book to recommend, that touches upon this issue.

My son's diagnosis came in January 2008. In March of 2008, I attended Left Coast Crime in Denver with my best friend, Katie, and fellow writer Becca Fitzpatrick. It was the first time I'd left Jake and it was very difficult handing off instructions for daily neupogen shots and the daily drive to radiation treatments, not to mention my general state of bursting-into-tears at the oddest and most unpredictable moments.

The first day of the conference, I was in the book room when I saw a young writer signing books. He caught my eye because of his wonderfully curly hair. See, I'd had to shave Jake's head myself (he refused to let anyone else touch it) almost eight weeks earlier and since then Jake had convinced himself that the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen to him was that his hair would grow back curly. So how could I not notice this man and think of my son?

The writer was Marcus Sakey. I pray that he's forgotten me because, honestly, I'm sure I left him a little uncertain whether I was a stalker or not. Usually, I am not at all brave about approaching strangers.

Usually, my child does not have cancer.

So with Katie and Becca to back me up (either reassuring Marcus that I was normal enough to have friends or, conversely, freaking him out because I had minions), I asked him if I could take his picture. I believe I babbled something about my son and his current state of baldness, at least. And Marcus Sakey was wonderful. Katie took a picture of the two of us (which, no! I am not attaching. Because I'm the one writing this and I say so!) and he signed one of his books for a Jake, along with a note about how much girls like curly hair.

I've never forgotten that. So this September, it gives me great pleasure to let you know about a fundraiser Marcus Sakey has put together. You can read about it here. In brief, he's selling a collection of short stories in e-book form and in the month of September 100% of the proceeds to a foundation in honor of childhood cancers. And don't think you're the one conferring the great favor by buying the book--because Marcus Sakey is an outstanding thriller writer. So do good and also enjoy stories. What could be better?

In honor of this month, I'm also linking to a post I originally wrote four years ago just as Jake came off treatment. You can read my thoughts on statistics here.

Happy September. And no, Jake's hair did not actually grow back curly. In other words, I stalked Marcus Sakey and humiliated myself for nothing. Except finding a great new author :)

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