Childhood Cancer

Give Kids a Lifetime

by Becky C. Weaver, Chief Mission Officer, St. Baldrick's Foundation
September 2, 2020

This year during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, while we celebrate progress, let’s spread the word that surviving five years is not enough. We need to give kids a lifetime.

ambassasdor collageEvery year we select five children – with one who has passed away from cancer representing the 1 in 5 who don’t survive. For 2020, we have six kids, in order to include twin brothers Seth and Joel, who died months apart from each other.

More than anything, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is a time to honor the thousands of children fighting cancer as well as survivors, and to remember those we have lost. It’s a time for families to tell their stories. And it’s a time for others to listen and learn, show we care, and find ways to help.

Early in every child’s story, one question comes up:

“What are the chances of surviving this?”

The five-year survival rate for childhood cancers has risen to 84%, overall, according to the National Cancer Institute. That’s great news!

But to any one child, that means nothing. It’s like saying someone with “an adult cancer” has a certain chance of survival. The only thing that matters, of course, is the survival rate for the specific cancer that person has.

Looking at survival rates for all childhood cancers combined does show us that research is making a difference — that more children are cured now than before.

But the progress is mostly because research has found better treatments for a few cancers – like some leukemias. But for other types of childhood cancer – like osteosarcoma, a cancer of the bone – treatment is not much different today than it was decades ago. And for some – including certain brain tumors – there is still no cure.

Still One in Five?

When the St. Baldrick’s Foundation began, the survival rate was 80%. Five St. Baldrick’s Ambassadors are chosen each year, telling their stories to represent all kids fighting cancer. And to show that one in five kids in the U.S. do not survive cancer, one Ambassador each year is deceased.

Now that the survival rate is 84%, some have begun to say that one in six will not survive childhood cancer. They’re not wrong.

But the St. Baldrick’s Foundation will continue to say one in five, and here’s why.

The survival rate simply counts children who are alive five years after diagnosis, regardless of treatment status. For many children, treatment lasts three years or more, so by the time they hit that five-year mark, even if they are cancer-free, they may only have only been off treatment for two years or less. Relapse is still a threat.

And while hitting the five-year milestone is worth celebrating, some will die later, either of their cancer or of the effects of their treatment. Even those who survive ten years after diagnosis may be barely in their teens.

Five Years is Not Enough

Not long ago, I was talking with the chair of the Children’s Oncology Group, Doug Hawkins, M.D., as we looked at charts showing survival rates not just for five years, but also for ten and twenty.

I’ll never forget what he said. “We don’t want to give kids five more years. We want to give them a lifetime.”

That’s what kids deserve — a lifetime to grow up, have best friends, fall in love, build a career, raise a family of their own if they choose, and live free of cancer and the toxic effects of treatment.

More than 90% of kids with certain kinds of leukemia survive today, because of the small improvements from consistent research as well as occasional ground-breaking discoveries. Your support through St. Baldrick’s has helped make that happen.

Now let’s do the same for other kids. Let’s fund the research to help kids with even the most difficult childhood cancers, and the most rare.

Let’s give kids a lifetime.

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How can you help, especially this Childhood Cancer Awareness Month? 

Get Involved

Spread the Word

  • Add a Facebook Frame: Tell everyone it’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
  • Post these images online to promote #GiveKidsALifetime
  • Use #GiveKidsALifetime to tell your own story

Together, let’s #GiveKidsALifetime


Read more on the St. Baldrick’s blog: