Kathleen’s Desk

The Gift of Perspective

by Kathleen Ruddy, CEO, St. Baldrick's Foundation
September 2, 2015

A couple weeks ago, I donned a hospital gown (the unflattering kind that opens in the back) and hopped onto an exam table, turning its smooth white paper sheet into a bit of a crumple. As I waited for the doctor to join me, I considered what was about to happen.

Had it really been a year since my last skin cancer screening? Yes.

This wasn’t the first time the dermatologist had to burn off suspicious spots. This visit’s count totaled 10 of them, plus the cutting out of an 11th to be biopsied. Despite a generous daily coat of sunscreen, given my lack of pigment, my skin seems determined to flirt with skin cancer.

Ah, genetics. My dad has virtually had a standing appointment at his dermatologist’s office for decades, and biopsies, stitches and painful treatments are a way of life for him. Worse, his younger brother, my uncle, died of melanoma 15 years ago. So I don’t discount skin cancer. I know how devastating it can be.

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“So sorry, Kathleen, but you’re going to have these pink spots on your arms for a while, and a new scar that’ll be visible,” my dermatologist apologized.

Seriously?! I thought to myself.

I began to think of the thousands of children who must endure years of excruciatingly more painful treatments than mine to try to cure cancers that are determined to kill them. Children whose futures, more often than not, are forever altered — if they’re fortunate enough to survive.

“Doc, I consider this scar and these spots to be a gift — a reminder of how fortunate I am.”

From her reaction, I guessed she hadn’t heard that very often. Her nurse, as well, gave me a quizzical look.

So I explained.

I told them of the work we do here at St. Baldrick’s. I told them of the children we encounter, and how through research we’re investing in their future.

I told them that I’m fortunate because children with cancer rarely have such visible signs of disease. Their cancers aren’t preventable the way most skin cancers are. My “trouble spots” required less than 10 minutes of treatment, and I knew the discomfort would be gone the next day. But for so many of these children, treatment requires years of therapy that’s usually painful and often damaging.

The nurse grew quiet and my doctor said, “Thank you for the gift of perspective.”

I don’t know if I’ll ever have to fight cells inside my own body, but if I do, I will have made it well into adulthood without the burden of such a battle. I am grateful that resources were available to researchers who developed effective, preventive treatments for my trouble spots.

And while I’m also grateful for broad spectrum SPF 50, and my new scar, I long for the day when we can treat childhood cancers proactively, and when diagnosis will be followed by immediate, efficient, non-toxic, painless therapies for our children. Therapies that take minutes to administer, preserve their future, and allow them to be what they should …

Not cancer warriors. Children.

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September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. What will YOU do to give kids with cancer a chance at a future?

6 Ways You Can Help Kids With Cancer

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