Donna Day: St Baldrick's, St Patrick and childhood cancer

If you have a child, a grandchild, a nephew, a niece, you’re going to want to give them the biggest hug imaginable. Because this is about the roughest of stuff, the saddest of stories. It’s about childhood cancer, the number one disease killer of children in the US. And it’s about what you can do about it.

So first St. Baldrick. I’m going to be honest. I am one of those who believed there actually was a St Baldrick. You can put it down to my Irish gullibility, but I’m not entirely to blame. There’s a story behind the creation of St Baldrick and like many stories, there’s an Irishman involved. Three in fact (two native-born and one proud Irish-American, to be exact).

It started from a challenge to give back – and possibly an envy of one of the afore-mentioned gentlemen’s impressive shock of hair. The concept was to have a sponsored shaving of heads to raise funds for kids with cancer. The goal to raise $17,000 as a result of 17 newly-bald heads on March 17 – you can see where it’s going. And thus the first St Baldrick’s (a mash-up of bald and St Patrick’s) fundraiser was born. That was in 2000, when the actual total raised thanks to 19 smooth-headed individuals was $104,000.

What started as a story about three Irishmen in a bar is now a foundation that has funded more than $178 million in childhood cancer research. BUT IT’S NOT ENOUGH. Now the rough stuff starts.

* Worldwide, a child is diagnosed with childhood cancer every 3 minutes.

* Childhood cancers are NOT like adult cancers. Many adult cancers can be diagnosed early. In 80% of kids, cancer has spread to other parts of a child’s body before it is diagnosed.

*Even for the kids who survive, the battle is far from over. Because of the treatments they had as children, more than 95% of survivors will have a chronic health condition by the time they’re 45, and 80% will have severe or life-threatening conditions, according to a recent study.

*BUT only 4% of federal funding is solely dedicated to childhood cancer research.

*And while about 60% of funding for drug development in adult cancers comes from the pharmaceutical companies, there’s almost nothing for childhood cancers as childhood cancer drugs are not profitable.

At St Baldrick’s, it is all childhood cancer research, all of the time. While there’s still time left.

Which brings me to the beautiful Donna and today, Donna Day.

donnaAround this time last year I joined the great community of bloggers that is ChicagoNow. Shortly after I started writing, I noticed a series of posts on a particular day, Donna Day. They led me to this story, the story of Donna, the daughter of fellow blogger Mary Tyler Mom. Donna died in 2009, aged just four, of pediatric cancer. As a parent, we all at one time fear the worst. We try to imagine how we would cope, what we would say. This is what it’s like when ‘imagine’ is a luxury you don’t have.

It’s impossible to read Mary Tyler Mom’s amazing words, and not want to do something, anything. And you can.

* If you would like to, please donate. For the fifth year, Donna’s family have their own team page for this year’s St Baldrick’s fundraiser – just click on ‘Donna’s Good Things’ to contribute in any way you can.

* Read more about the great work St Baldrick’s is doing, and perhaps even think about becoming a shavee next year. There are events all over the world, and when events take place outside of the US, the foundation forms a partnership with childhood cancer organisations in the same country, ensuring funds raised in the area, stay in the area, and help children in the area.

* Consider becoming an advocate, and add your voice to the many trying to make childhood cancer research a higher priority in federal funding. (Did I mention that you can beat Congress to it and donate here?).

Because children should grow, not cancer.

You can read the many other tributes to Donna from the ChicagoNow family here.

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