The person who first decided to designate a specific color of ribbon to a specific disease or cause made one serious error. There are way more diseases and problems in the world than there are colors.
A couple of these colored ribbons are universally recognized; pink for breast cancer and red for heart disease. But even those two share their colors with a bunch of other diseases. Not that long ago, the red ribbon was for HIV/AIDS. It gets confusing.
I was especially confused when I started seeing references to childhood cancer, a subject near to my heart, sporting yellow ribbons. September is “Childhood Cancer Awareness Month” so there’s a lot of yellow ribbons out there right now. This made no sense whatsoever. Yellow ribbons have meant support for military forces, especially when deployed overseas, for a long time.
Children with cancer are indeed brave fighters but don’t they deserve their own color of ribbon? I think so. And they do have their own color, sort of. Childhood cancer is represented not by a yellow ribbon but a gold one which isn’t much better since gold and yellow are basically indistinguishable.
This is all just to say that childhood cancer, like Rodney Dangerfield, gets no respect. Or that’s how it feels when you have a child, or in my case a grandchild, in the fight.
A lot of those yellow, excuse me, gold ribbons that I see are attached to a statistic saying only 4 percent of cancer research funds goes to pediatric cancer. Is that true? I have no idea. My research skills have yielded no answer and I have tried. I have dug all through the National Cancer Institute’s website looking for the official figures and I can’t find them.
I do see however that most of the time when they give a figure for dollars spent on cancer research, it says “including pediatric cancers” which leads me to believe they are a little defensive on the subject. I also don’t see any official denial of the 4 percent claim which is also telling due to it prevalence out there on the interwebs.
The National Cancer Institute, which is extremely important as it is the entity that decides how and where the government money earmarked for cancer research is spent has recently added a whole section on how “cancer in children is different from cancer in adults” to the “types of cancer” section of their website. Again, there’s a lot of information here. In fact, so much information that any funding figures are well hidden.
It really looks like they want to convince the public that they are taking childhood cancer seriously without actually saying how seriously they’re taking it. And by that, I mean saying how much money they actually spend on it.
My Googling did reveal a few statistics that may or may not be true. Even though the National Cancer Institute stresses that childhood cancer is on the wane, it is still the leading cause of death by disease in children. Also adults who die of cancer lose an average of 17 years of their life expectancy but a child who dies from cancer loses an average of 71 years of their life.
That is a heart-wrenching number. I desperately want my granddaughter to outlive me. She has been battling brain cancer for more than half of her three years and barring a miracle, will continue to endure the indignities of chemotherapy and surgery until she is a teenager and her brain is mature enough to withstand the radiation that will cure this mess.
She deserves better. All the kids deserve better. They deserve the best we can give them because they have the most to lose. And when they lose, we all lose.
Bill Colvard is lifestyles writer at the Mount Airy News and can be reached at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.