Did you know September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month? Similar to Lung Cancer, Children’s cancer research is very under funded. When Molly was first diagnosed, I asked my psychiatrist if there was anything worst than your spouse being diagnosed with cancer? She replied yes, your child being diagnosed.
When I worked in San Francisco, my colleagues and I volunteered at a place called Koret Family House. The function of this place is to give free housing to the families of the children being treated at UCSF. What I remember the most about the place was the pictures of the families on the walls. The pain theses parents were going through could be seen vividly in their eyes.
I have met a few parents who their children had been diagnosed with a childhood cancer, but fortunately all of them were cured. In college I had a close friend who was not so lucky though. Allison was diagnosed with a rare cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma when she was only eight years old.
In summer of 1991, I was working full time and trying to figure out what to do with my life. That summer I had become friends with a high school kid name Ron. One weekend Ron invited me to hang out with his friends. Even though I wasn’t much older than Ron, I was hesitant to hang out with bunch of High School kids but I accepted the invitation since I really liked Ron. In some ways Ron was more mature than me.
That night I met Allison. She was only 15 but spoke and acted with maturity well beyond her age. While I was speaking to her, I noticed that she was wearing a wig. When I asked her why, she told me that she had cancer. Those days childhood cancer was something I only knew from movies and television. She was the first teenage cancer patient I had met.
Allison told me that she drove every month to San Francisco for treatment. At that time her treatments were working and her cancer was stable. She had a surprisingly positive attitude and I found myself learning about life from a girl four years my junior. She lived every day to the fullest, and was loved by everyone around her. Allison was like a moonlight, she just had that aura about her.
Following summer I was going to Paris to see my family. Before I left, I met up with Allison and Ron to discuss our summer plans. Allison was staying in town, and Ron was going to Sweden to visit his family. We parted ways for the summer and promised to meet up in fall. In those days there were no social media and email to keep up with friends.
When I returned, I called Allison and went to her house to give her the gift I had bought her from France. Allison did not seem her normal jovial self and after she accepted my gift, she told me that her cancer had spread to her spine. I didn’t understand the gravity of this news and assumed she was going to be ok. I think this was due to my immaturity, because later I heard Ron had cut his trip short after hearing the news. Obviously he knew Allison’s prognosis weren’t good.
The week after I talked to Allison, I met my future wife Molly and we started spending a lot of time together. As time went by I saw Allison less often, a self protection decision I regret to this date. This is an unfortunate mistake a lot of people make when a friend is diagnosed with a serious disease. Take it from me, you may save yourself the agony of seeing a loved one die, but you will miss out on some valuable time with them.
Allison passed away December 30th, 1993, she was only 17. I heard later she had a beautiful funeral with her high school choir team singing during the service. There are still notes and flowers being left at her grave site some 20 years later. Like I said, she just had that effect on people.
I think of Allison often. Last year I found this website her father had set up for her. When I contacted her father, he told me that it is still hard for him after 20 years. When your child dies, piece of you will die with them. After we spoke he added a lot more pictures to the website. I love how the pictures tell her story. Allison will always be in my thoughts; this blog is dedicated to her memory. RIP little angel.
Like I said at the beginning, Children’s Cancer Research is among the least funded cancers. If you would like donate please go here: