The Top 9 Things You Need to Know When Your Child is Diagnosed With Cancer

David's Journey, Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized

carpeWhen David was diagnosed at 16, he was the first person in my immediate family to have a cancer diagnosis. We were shell shocked, to say the least. To be told that your seemingly healthy teen who had a bad headache is going to die… well, nothing prepares you for that. What happens next, though, is something I very much hope we can help parents prepare for.

David went to heaven four years ago, but we have stayed very active in the brain tumor community. It has been a huge part of my life for the last six years. (He was diagnosed in 2010.) I’ve learned a lot since then, some of it while David was in treatment, and some of it after he passed. All of it is information that I would rather forget, but it is important for parents like me to share their journeys so that those who follow after us can have a smoother path.

So here it goes, my top 9 tips for parents who’ve just heard that their child has cancer:

1. GET A SECOND OPINION. (Sorry for the all caps there, but really, this is important.) I don’t care that your doctor has been your family’s doctor for the last 3 decades. I don’t care if you are at one of the top hospitals in the country. Get a second opinion. Doctors are humans, and a lot of what happens in cancer treatments is up to their judgement. You may find that you don’t want to be on the path that they recommend. That isn’t a criticism of them. People are different. Paths are different. You almost always have to talk to more than one institution to know what all of your options are.

2. Do your research. Over and over again, I talk to families who say, “Well, our doctor said it is a ___ and we should do ___.” Then they just do it. We’ve been trained to honor medical professionals and trust their judgement. That’s not a bad thing. But being led around like a blind sheep can lead you into a treatment path that isn’t right for you or your child. When you are given the diagnosis, look it up. Start with major websites that can give you reliable information. A really good place to start is at https://www.cancer.gov/types

From there, look for foundations that specialize in the type of cancer that your child has. Since David had brain cancer, I can tell you that the sites I found useful were:

http://abc2.org/guidance/find-care – to find out which hospitals specialize in brain cancer – more on this later.

https://endbraincancer.org/we-can-help/ – to get guidance on what your next step should be. At the time I sought their advice, they were very frank about the type of testing they recommended and what to look for in a doctor, including referring me to a Neuro Oncologist.

3. If at all possible, go to a hospital that has a brain tumor team. ABC2.org only lists hospitals with a dedicated brain tumor team. The world of brain cancer research was virtually stagnant for many years, but in the recent couple of years, discoveries are being made very rapidly.  I don’t think it is practical to expect a doctor that deals with many types of cancer  to stay on top of every new treatment coming down the pike. Most will wait for the “tried and true” treatments before they change their recommendations. Brain cancer patients frequently don’t have that kind of time. Cutting edge treatments could mean the difference between life (or at least extended life) and death.

4. Ask every question you have. Write them down between appointments and don’t be shy about going through your list. The medical staff is there to help you and your child and the first step of that is making sure you understand what is going on.

5. Don’t be afraid to “fire” your doctor. I know that isn’t going to make me very popular with some folks, but here’s the deal. This is the single most stressful thing you will ever go through. You need to know that the doctor is 100% on your side and will fight for your child. If they ever make you feel like you are wasting their time, or your child doesn’t deserve treatment, move on.

6. Seek help. If you have found a doctor you like, but they are far away, ask for help. There are many foundations that fund travel and related expenses. Hospitals themselves sometimes have funds or auxiliary groups who can assist you. Crowdfunding websites help people raise money all the time for just this reason. You aren’t a slacker if you need help paying for all of this. Treatment is expensive. Time away from work means you have less money than normal. Going to doctor’s appointments means you need extra daycare, pet care, home care. It adds up. You can find a list of resources for brain cancer patients at http://www.dragonmasterfoundation.org. (Full disclosure: I’m President of that foundation.)

7. Make a Plan B. For everything. You may have a reliable vehicle, but what happens if your transmission blows? You have a friend picking up your other kids from school, but what happens when they get the flu? Most likely, you have people offering to help you, but they don’t really know what to help with. Get them involved in your plan B.

8. Make a treatment Plan B. I could have included this above, but this is super important. If your child has an aggressive cancer or one that has a high probability of recurrence, ask your doctor to tell you what the next line of treatment is. Time after time, people are lulled into a sense of security because treatment is going well, and the BAM! The cancer comes back. Everyone wants to believe the treatment will work, and if it fails, you have that same shock that came with diagnosis. Knowing what the next possible treatment is can really help you feel more prepared.

Side note: We were blindsided when David’s cancer spread. He had been on a clinical trial and was doing so well that his results were presented at a conference. We just knew he was going to beat his cancer. When it spread, we were kicked off the clinical trial and had to scramble to figure out what options were available for him.

9. Trust yourself. All of the tips above are for families who are prepared for an aggressive battle. However, not every family chooses that path. We were fortunate because David was a teenager and could tell us his wishes for treatment. Most parents are dealing with younger kids who may or may not understand the repercussions of treatment. We had an amazing neuro oncologist who would always lay out possible treatment options to us and the last choice was always, “or you can do nothing.” David had glioblastoma multiforme, and even now, six years later, there are no easy answers for that type of cancer. Brain cancer is a tricky, nasty beast. If there were one thing that was certain to work, I would recommend it, even if it made the child feel bad for a while. After all, what is six months of feeling bad compared to the potential 77 years of life lost when a child dies from cancer? But with brain cancer, there are no guarantees. Heck, for the aggressive cancers, there is very little hope. The families that push forward with treatment do so because it feels right for them, and frequently, because they want to help other people.

David was pretty adamant about helping others. His tissue was donated to research, and it is now part of an open access database that is empowering research around the globe. (This is also a project funded in part by Dragon Master Foundation. For more info on that, go to Cavatica.org.) It was a heart-breaking journey, but it was not in vain. I know that David would be thrilled to know that researchers are sharing data and working around the clock. We don’t know the answers yet, but I have every confidence that they are on the horizon.

I used to preface my help to people by saying “I’m JUST a mom…” because in the world of cancer research, I don’t want to come across as a doctor or researcher. However, my hard earned “momcology” degree is valuable, and I’m moving forward with a sense of purpose that my message is important and needs to be heard. Do you have tips you’d like to share for newly diagnosed patients? Please share them in the comments!

One Small Gesture CAN Change the World

Dragon Master Foundation, Uncategorized

Today is the halfway point in the Revlon Love is On Challenge. We have raised over $21,000, which far exceeds any online fundraising we have done for Dragon Master Foundation in the past. It shows that we are growing as a foundation and that people are starting to really understand and support our mission. I really wanted us to be at $50,000 by the end of the day today, though. Hitting $50,000 today would mean that we have a guaranteed pitch meeting with Revlon to promote Cavatica — an open access data platform that will dramatically improve the cancer research process. We have until midnight. I haven’t given up hope.

My heart may be broken, but I don’t want yours to be. 

There are literally thousands of people who have the potential to read this message. If each of them donated only $10, we would far exceed our goal. There are many times in this life that we are helpless. We sit and watch as good people die from a disease that seems unstoppable. I’m here to tell you that it is stoppable. We are seeing breakthroughs with precision medicine efforts, but if we want them for everyone we must take action. Precision medicine initiatives are only as good as the data that drives them. You’ve seen the photos. Right now, a family sits with their child knowing there is nothing else to be done. For those of us who have been there, there is nothing we wouldn’t do to keep you from knowing that pain. Wives continue on without their husbands because a nasty beast stole them away right in their prime. Children grow up without mothers because cancer stole them from their family.

This project has the potential to help all of mankind. I don’t expect you to devote your life to it. I know you have jobs and kids and other responsibilities. All I’m asking is that you realize what an amazing opportunity this could be for all of us, and maybe skip that extra meal out this week. Donate two days worth of Starbucks to our cause — TODAY. I promise you we will make the very most out of that donation.

You can donate here: https://www.crowdrise.com/DragonMasterFoundation-Revlon2016

In case “warm fuzzies” aren’t enough

Dragon Master Foundation

We are a few days into the Revlon “Love Is On” Campaign, and I’m super proud of our effort so far. For such a new foundation, we are really holding our own! I know a lot of our supporters are not on Facebook, so I wanted to do an update here on what you can get by helping Dragon Master Foundation in our quest to win a million dollars. You know, in case the warm fuzzies aren’t enough. 🙂

We announced that we will have a special “thank you” bundle for everyone who donates more than $150, and today, I’m going to tell you what that bundle includes:

  1. A Hope, Love, Cure, End Cancer Vinyl Cling  – These are a great way to show that you support cancer research! You can put them on your car, on a dorm window, or the entrance to your business. Show the world you care!

    screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-9-28-31-am

    T-shirt and vinyl cling design

  2. A Snazzy Awareness T-shirt  – Ok, I know “snazzy” isn’t very descriptive, but the t-shirt will be changing each week. The first week’s shirt is a yellow gold with a grey imprint of our Hope, Love, Cure, End cancer design. It’s only available until Tuesday, September 20th, so be on the lookout for the next shirt after that. (Side note: If you donate more than $150 each week of the campaign, you get a new bundle each week!!)screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-8-46-37-am
  3. A CanPlan Planner – These are an awesome resource for people going through cancer treatment! It’s a leather hardcover design that just feels good to carry around, and the patient or caregiver that has it will feel better because they will have the information they need at their fingertips. This beautiful resource is available for purchase for $29.95 on their website (http://store.mycanplan.com/) or you can make a donation and get one as part of your bundle!insert_dmf_front
  4. A Two Pack of Dragon Snappets – This creative toy is a wonderful gift for kids battling cancer – or kids who aren’t battling cancer! Constructed of paper and rubber bands (no scissors or glue needed), the interactive toy lets them make their own dragon hand puppet and then have hours of imaginative fun while the dragon makes a satisfying “snap” sound when you close his mouth. Normally $9.99 (you can purchase extras here) this awesome gift will also be part of your bundle!
  5. The satisfaction of knowing you are making the world a better place. Really, the “stuff” is nice, but when it comes down to it, your donation will be helping us have a chance to talk to Revlon about open access cancer research and the need to break down the research silos that exist. It will be offering hope to patients with rare cancers who are currently told at diagnosis that they are terminal. It will put new and powerful tools into the hands of doctors and scientists who have dedicated their lives to finding cancer cures. That’s the very best gift of all.

You can donate to Dragon Master Foundation for the Love Is On Challenge by going here. You can donate directly to the foundation, or choose one of the team members who are helping us. Better yet, sign up to be on the team and help us spread the word! We need to be in the top 10 group by tomorrow to win the next challenge grant of $5,000, so every little bit today REALLY helps!

 

 

#BrainTumorThursday

Uncategorized

It occurred to me today that when I was new to this world of brain cancer, it was quite an overwhelming place. With the internet, there are countless resources out there, but it is very hard to know where to really connect. So today, #BrainTumorThursday, I thought I would address a couple of ways to connect with others in the brain cancer community.

First, there are two hashtags that are quite popular on Twitter for brain cancer. The first is #BrainTumorThursday, and each Thursday, people will post about brain tumors. The second is #btsm, which stands for “brain tumor social media”. People who are passionate about the cause use these hashtags, and even “meet up” one Sunday a month on Twitter to talk about issues.

On Facebook, there are quite a few groups that deal with very specific tumor types and are geared toward survivors and/or caregivers. Search under specific tumor types (GBM or DIPG, for example) or just type in “brain cancer”. You will find others who are fighting similar battles, and the at large “brain cancer family” is a very supportive group.

On Pinterest, there is a growing movement of brain cancer awareness. It’s a good place to find some images to use during brain cancer awareness month (May). I’ve posted some images here: http://www.pinterest.com/haddock/brain-cancer-awareness-dragon-master-foundation-sp/

I know that there are people active on other social media sites as well, but I’m not as active on those. lf you have some good social sites/pages to share, please post them below.

Lastly, there is a movement very dear to me by my good friend, Alex Moore, to raise money for his film about a brain cancer survivor. I re-blogged Alex’s post about his film, but I wanted to mention it here because I think it will be such a valuable resource for families. A survivor himself, Alex will be able to tell the story in a way no other storyteller could do. I’ve had the privilege of reading Alex’s tribute to lost warriors (my son included) along with the stories of hope he has encountered along his path. I hope that you will check out his project and consider sharing it with others who would like to bring awareness to brain cancer. You can read about the project here: http://www.gofundme.com/aimoore

The End of the Month

Uncategorized

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is over. I haven’t posted a lot on here, but I made posts on Facebook. There were a lot of impassioned voices, and sometimes I feel like they’ve said it all. There are families who detail their struggles in such great detail that I can’t always bear to read it. I feel the agony they are in as they struggle to save their loved ones, and their fear makes me feel helpless. There is nothing to say to help them. The ONLY thing I can think of that will make a difference is research. Better, more humane treatments are needed more with each passing day.

We are now in breast cancer awareness month, and I’m struggling. I have family members who have fought and won against breast cancer. I have friends who are, right now, in the fight. And as I look around at the pink, I know that must bolster them. What I don’t understand is why that one cancer has come to mean so much and the others, by comparison, so little. I read a few beautiful posts by breast cancer survivors today who seem to struggle with this same question. I am thankful for the success we are having against breast cancer. I just want us to fight other cancers with the same diligence.

Maybe that is selfish. Maybe I feel that way because my son died from one of those “other” cancers. I guess I never really separated it out until David got sick. I thought the American Cancer Society was handling it. Until we were in the fight, I had no idea how many families were losing the battle against cancer.

My family had been blessed with relatively healthy children and adults who mostly lived to old age with few exceptions. Cancer changed that in ways I am still struggling to understand.

I’ll never be what I could have been if he had lived. I’ll never be the same. But I won’t let it make me less. I have to be more. I have to do more because now I know more. I know the pain of losing a child. Of watching a sister lose the dearest friend she ever had. Of watching your friends and family struggle to make sense of something so senseless. Now I know. And I can’t just assume that someone else is handling it. Now it’s my job. And maybe it’s your job. Only you can know that. But I can tell you that we are each here to make a difference. I encourage you all to figure out what that difference is. Do SOMETHING. And if you have to try on a few different things before you find your fit, that’s ok. You’ll be helping people along the way.

We can all make a difference in some small way. The next $100 raised may pay for that extra hour in the lab that means a breakthrough. The next person you are nice to may be the one who didn’t know how to go on. Do “it” – as many “its” as you can make time for. You won’t be sorry.