Besides dissecting the incredible science the researcher is working on (today it was looking for the bad actor that leads to osteosarcoma metastases), I always ask a few standard questions: How will this help kids? Why is collaboration so important? And, why do you do this work?
I know why I do the work I do for ALSF. It began as something that made sense: I am writer. I love writing about science. My daughter is a cancer survivor. We were longtime supporters of ALSF. And ALSF was looking for a part-time writer. Quickly, it became something more: a calling. And when it comes to callings, I firmly believe you don't have much choice once you listen to that calling--you are all in, all the way.
But, for pediatric oncologists, I often wonder if they went that same call or if they were merely good at science or dedicated to helping children or somehow pursued pediatrics in medical school and through a series of turns landed in oncology. They have different answers; but all fall into a few different slots. Some, like me, have had childhood cancer thrown into their personal lives--igniting a calling.
Today, the researcher gave me a new answer. He said that when he tells strangers he is a pediatric oncologist, they usually reply and say "that's so sad." They don't ask questions; and sometimes they simply leave. It is a conversation stopper, he said. But then he said, he does what he does because he gets to see the best of humanity; that when a child is diagnosed with cancer their family turns on all the best parts of themselves and the child who is diagnosed shows super human resilience. He said: I do this because it is a privilege.
And he is so right.
Childhood cancer gave us many horrible things. Childhood cancer took away many wonderful things.
But it also gave us the most wonderful, privilege of knowing the most amazing, dedicated human beings on the planet. It gave us the Scott family; Alex Scott's parents and brothers, who never gave us the legacy Alex started. It gave us our daughter Lily--who shows us everyday what being brave means. It gave us our daughter Chloe--who fiercely protects her family. It gave us our son Nicholas--who shares the story of ALSF, his sister and how to make a change to everyone he meets.
It gave Mike and I, two dumb kids who fell in love in high school, the opportunity to become better than we ever could have better.
It gave us our lemonade family. For me, the other mothers I meet are the women that, quite literally, help me get up each day. I know that no better what, they've got my back and they've got my kids back. They are the best of humanity--offering unconditional love and endless support to me even when their own worlds have shattered.
It gave me the childhood cancer researchers that I spend my weeks chatting with and understanding how hope is in the science and how the science is in them.
I am so privileged and honored and humbled every single day by the beautiful, imperfect humanity that cancer lobbed in my life.