The popular self-help author and motivational speaker, Tony Robbins, once said, “By changing nothing, nothing changes.” A simple statement yet shadowed with profound wisdom. Through immersing myself in the childhood cancer community, at the tender age of seventeen, I, Khadesha Bryant, have come to this conclusion. If the childhood cancer community wishes to boldly advance their goals of bringing improved treatments and outcomes to children then we must heed Tony’s wisdom.
My interest in the cause, and more generally in the medical field, began in my elementary years. I was fascinated with diseases and the body and began learning as much as possible, as quickly as possible. To acquire even greater knowledge, I even began reading The New England Journal of Medicine. At first, I couldn’t understand much of what I read and had to look up every other word. But over time, I became more fluent in medical terminology, though I still have much to learn.
In eighth grade, my mother suggested to me that I needed to see what a hospital was like, not just read about what it treats, so she signed me up for my local hospital’s volunteer program in Upstate NY. For four summers, I did that each year and I did Inpatient Child Life as well as NICU Sibling Watch in the third summer and Outpatient Child Life in the fourth.
Through these placements, I met countless little warriors and grew fond of their undeniable strength and courage. There was one child in particular that truly touched my heart. I began to visit Matthew* every week and would sometimes even take extra shifts just to visit my little friend, for his family did not visit him often. We grew increasingly close as we spent more time together. Knowing I couldn’t sign out without it, he would often steal my badge so I couldn’t leave. But one week I could not find Matthew on my patient list and was worried something terrible had happened. I headed over to the PICU in a panic and asked the nurses there if he had transferred over to their unit. Thankfully, he had, although he had taken a turn for the worse. When I went into Matthew’s room, he was floating in and out of consciousness. I sat by his bed and told him I would come back and play with him when he was feeling better. But he turned to me, with a simple request, “Can you stay and hold my hand?” So I did. For the entire three hours of my shift, I held his hand. As nurses came in and checked his vitals, as the doctors came for rounds, as he slept and woke and slept and woke, I held his hand. I will never forget that day. It meant so much to me that my simple touch could touch his life. It was then I decided I wanted to help these children, children like Matthew battling for their lives.
Over the years I met more little warriors, specifically those with childhood cancer, and I began to feel more and more attached to that community. I began studying childhood cancer, and the organizations that were advocating for that cause. I even began two internships; one at my local association for childhood cancer and the other at my local hospital’s cancer center.
Through my internships I learned something surprising about the cancer community and it’s various organizations. Despite being for the same cause, they actually compete with one another! To me, this is the greatest flaw in the childhood cancer community; Lack of unity. There are countless organizations and foundations advocating for childhood cancer and in many cases, in honor of a child who is fighting or has fought and either won or passed from our world. The attention they are bringing for the cause is great, and it seems to be growing increasingly strong by the day. However, the attention they are receiving needs to translate into funds for research.
According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, it costs an average of $802 MILLION dollars to bring a drug to the market. Currently, there are few, if any, organizations in the childhood cancer community that can fund a drug from its conceptual stage to its market stage. It is simply too costly to do alone. So these organizations, independent of one another, are picking and choosing research projects to support based on their specific wants, desires or funds available. Which in its essence is great, but in its practicality is not. For they cannot fully fund the projects they choose to support and therefore promising research is started but can’t be seen to its end.
Another downfall of this disunity is conflicting messages and portrayal. I fully understand the necessity of personal fundraising campaigns using individualized techniques because they can and have raised great sums of money and increased awareness. However, just imagine the strength of a campaign in which ALL childhood cancer organizations and foundations participate. Instead of hundreds of voices shouting the same message, at different times in different ways, let’s all band together and at the same time scream, “HELP US FIND A CURE!” Unity will revolutionize the way research is supported, unity will revolutionize public awareness and unity will bring a cure. We just need to find the balance between maintaining the individual character and purpose of the respective organizations while joining them together under an umbrella. I am currently developing a solution, which I will speak of at a later time. However, it is up to the childhood cancer community to make this change. If they don’t change, nothing will change, and a cure may not be found.
Author: Khadesha Bryant*In order to comply with HIPAA regulations, the child’s name was changed to Matthew to protect his/her identity.