Cancer is a big word for a child, and a hard one for parents to teach.
But across the Beach, some parents are spelling out what cancer means for young families and sounding out the best ways to cope.
“Childhood cancer is still rare,” says Kim Wilson, whose five-year-old son Noah was diagnosed with cancer on his first birthday.
About 400 children are diagnosed with cancer every year in Ontario, with leukaemia and brain tumours making up nearly half of all diagnoses, according to the Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario (POGO).
More than 80 per cent survive, though many face developmental problems, sterility or secondary cancers caused by chemotherapy.
Standing trackside during the Sept. 27 Terry Fox Run at Duke of Connaught, Wilson said, “You know, everyone concentrates on how sad it is. But there’s so many uplifting stories, too.”
In Noah’s case, successful treatment of his very rare liver cancer meant that this summer he moved into a survivor’s clinic at SickKids Hospital.
And running along with him and other kindergarteners at the Terry Fox Run was Ashley Hennessy’s son Gladstone, whose cancer was only discovered after a nearly fatal septic shock.
After the 700 Connaught students stretched, cheered and looped the neighbourhood on a route marked with place names from Fox’s own run, Hennessy and other organizers had students chalk a whole courtyard full of yellow ribbons, hearts and other hopeful messages for all three of their schoolmates dealing with cancer.
Even though they are rare, Wilson says families facing childhood cancers do manage to find and support each other.
“You know what you do?” she said, laughing. “You meet other parents in the kitchen at SickKids’ Hospital.”
“It’s like living in a small town,” she added. “Your neighbours are the people in the room next door and the next door.”
Not quite next door, but not far from Duke of Connaught, another group of Beach families came together two days after the Terry Fox Run for Kisses for Keaton, a fundraiser for two-year-old Keaton Reid, better known as ‘Kiki.’
When Kiki started losing her hair during chemotherapy, her mother Stephanie decided to have her head shaved in solidarity.
“The hardest thing for me was watching my daughter go through something that I couldn’t understand, that I couldn’t get on her level,” she said.
Having her head shaved was one experience she could share, and something Reid hoped might inspire teenage girls facing the same thing.
“I go into the clinics and they’re ashamed. They have caps on, they hide their faces,” she said. “I feel like you shouldn’t be ashamed of that – you’re fighting something that not a lot of people can say they’ve fought.”
Following Reid in auctioning off their hair on Sept. 29 were three of her close friends, and they were joined by 11 more girls and women who donated 10 or more inches of their locks for Wigs for Kids.
Proceeds from the auctions and other events by Kisses for Keaton will go toward her treatment. According to POGO, out-of-pocket costs to a family dealing with a childhood cancer add up to roughly a third of their take-home income.
Proceeds will also go towards initiatives like an upcoming talk by author Barbara Coloroso on parenting through crisis.
“More than anything, I want to make sure people remember these kids going through this,” said Reid.