True, far fewer children than adults die from cancer. Yet the average age for the diagnosis of adult cancer is the late 60s; for children it is age 6. In terms of the potential years of life saved, a cure for childhood cancer would provide roughly the same benefit as a cure for breast cancer. While a cure for breast cancer is justifiably a cause célèbre, a cure for children’s cancer is not.
What can be done? In 2008, the Conquer Childhood Cancer Act, which authorized $30 million a year for pediatric cancer research, passed both houses of Congress unanimously, but with a cruel twist: Congress allocated only a minuscule fraction of that sum, amounting to 0.00003 percent of last year’s federal budget, and even that is under threat unless Congress votes to reauthorize the act this year. Last year Congress passed the Creating Hope Act, which provides some incentive for drug companies to develop treatments for rare pediatric disease. It’s a first step, but this is a limited demonstration project, and much more is needed. More will not happen until pressure is placed on Congress, the pharmaceutical industry and other major players. That is why my family, together with families from 31 states, mobilized on Capitol Hill this week for Childhood Cancer Action Day, to push members of Congress to act on the lifeboat principle: Children should come first, not last.
Without this understanding, more children, like our daughter Olivia, will die from cancer or, should they survive, face serious long-term side effects. Doctors told us they couldn’t do anything to save Olivia’s life. My family and I, together with all the other families who came to the Hill, refuse to accept that prognosis for other children, knowing that with the right investment in research, effective treatment for pediatric cancer is within reach.
Stephen Crowley is a professor of politics at Oberlin College.