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I’m still here . . . just have been ridiculously busy, mostly with school-related stuff.  Too many balls in the air right now, that’s for sure. But anyway, looking ahead to my busy winter season, I invite you all to start thinking about that other month in which childhood cancer is pushed to the forefront of the public conscience . . . March.

I will again be hosting a St. Baldrick’s head-shaving event for young people in our community on Sunday, March 10.  I welcome the participation of any and all of you and hope that those kids who shaved last year want to do so again and have inspired their friends and classmates to join them.  I’d been hoping to convince the counselor at Fairfax to adopt St Baldrick’s as our school’s charity for the year.  Unfortunately, I discovered that the entire district has committed yet again to the Pennies for Pasta fundraiser run by The Olive Garden.

Let me vent for a moment about this particular effort, promoted heavily to schools through the restaurant’s marketing team. The monies ultimately go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, a worthy cause no doubt. But, despite some valiant searches through GuideStar and Charity Navigator, I can find no reports on exactly how much of the money goes there and how much stays with The Olive Garden. Maybe I’m being cynical and maybe they just hand all the donations over for the greater good, but the very name Pennies for Pasta bothers me. The idea is that students bring in their loose change (pennies) and the class who raises the most money wins a catered lunch by the restaurant (pasta). Of course, the prospect of sitting down with table clothes and real silverware in the classroom is exciting for kids and everyone likes a little motivation. But it also teaches kids that you only give when you get something in return.

One of the things I love about St Baldrick’s — and that I think proves meaningful to young and old alike — is that there are no prizes. Sure, you get a t-shirt and a button, but that’s not the same thing (and those serve to promote awareness not just of the organization but, more importantly, of childhood cancer).  Instead, the children who participate in these events learn that no matter how young they are, they have the power to make a true difference.  They can sacrifice in ways that (some of) the grown-ups around them are unwilling to do. That’s quite a powerful realization: I can change the world, I have impact. Not because I found some spare change in my couch cushions and won a prize, but because I gave something real, a piece of myself, and expected nothing in return.

Of course, the truth is that these kids get a lot in return and for good reason. They feel like they’re part of something important . . . because they are. They’re celebrated in their homes and schools and local media for their bravery . . . which they display in all its glory. They’re praised by their teachers and classmates and friends and families as heroes . . . because they are.  No noodles necessary.

 

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I never had a chance to post about the CureSearch Walk, as I was busy packing for my fantastic getaway.  Thank you to those who joined us or donated on our behalf.  We had a nice group of about 25 friends and neighbors who walked alongside us on a beautiful sunny morning.  The kids, of course, thought it was all about making baboushkas out of their new bandanas and devouring free bagels. And when they called up those who had lost a loved one for the balloon release, Austin eagerly insisted on going up.  “Oh-kaaaaayy,” I hesitated, trying to quickly determine which child we’d release a balloon for.  I settled on our beloved Ariana (of course) and Dylan, another young friend whose story is too pathetically heartbreaking to relate on this dreary gray Wednesday.

The overall event was nice, raising more than $60,000 for research.  My one friend who attended for the first time was amazed at how small it was, compared to the breast cancer events she’s used to.  Which brings me to my own little pity fest, egged on by the ever-increasing pink in our world. I don’t mean to begrudge the breast cancer movement its marketing success.  I am indeed amazed and impressed by the truly remarkable feat it has achieved in in just three decades, making this once-silent disease the darling of corporations and advertising campaigns.  And of course I believe we need to fund breast cancer research and of course I believe that awareness raising is a part of that. And I hate to act like my disease is the only one that matters, because if we all thought that, we’d never make any progress.

But the fact that Childhood Cancer Awareness Month falls right before Breast Cancer Awareness Month does make for a stark comparison, as that wave of pink inevitably bleeds over the calendar’s edges. I remember last fall, over Labor Day weekend, a local design shop began setting up its two-story pink ribbon display facing a busy intersection.  Now, I am perfectly fine with them supporting breast cancer awareness and research, but does anyone even know the ribbon color for childhood cancer? It was Labor Day, all of three days into September.  Keep your pink confined to those 31 days, dammit!

Okay, that was harsh and selfish, and probably isn’t the answer at all.  Maybe we don’t need to designate any set period of days or weeks to one disease versus another, just like we don’t need to confine black history to the month of February.  Maybe we simply need to look at numbers and impact and fairly and appropriately fund research across the board.  Easier said than done, I know. And it’s no doubt true that more adults get and die from cancer than young people do. But it’s frustrating to know that pediatric cancer kills more children each year than AIDS, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, congenital heart defects, asthma and muscular dystrophy combined. But receives 4% of all national funding for cancer research and treatment. That alone should shock us into action. Not to mention the fact that of those children who do survive, one quarter suffer from life-threatening or life-altering complications from their treatment.  And a major study out of Britain recently concluded that for survivors of childhood cancers “their risk of dying earlier than their peers who had never had cancer remained significantly elevated even after 45 years.”

So, I’m certainly not proposing that we stop or slow the progress made by movements like breast cancer awareness (although some people do raise very interesting questions about the tactics and especially about the promotion of products with pink ribbons that likely contain carcinogens, see here and here). But I am proposing that we focus on what’s actually important — in the case of breast cancer, what’s actually important is not saving the ta-tas but saving lives. And the same goes for our nation’s children. We must save them, every one.

There are too many balloons in this scene:

Aaaaahhhh, well, that was nice. Five days of

Biking

Hiking

Running

Eating

Tasting

Viewing

Learning

Celebrating

Chilling

Visiting

With my cousin at the Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park

Reminiscing

On the steps of my old San Fran apartment

And then there was the return home to our sweet boys, who spent the week with my parents.  They did a super job (both boys and parents), but poor Austin was missing his momma bigtime.  Every time I talked to him, his voice sounded funny and then finally, as I said good night to him over the phone halfway through our trip, he completely broke down and sobbed.  Heaving, heartbreaking, I want my mommy sobs. I stayed on with him for another ten minutes, trying to hide my own tears, singing his favorite lullabies, before my mom finally cut it off and let him sadly fall asleep in her arms. I knew he’d be fine and Mark insisted it was “good for him,” but it sure was nice to have him in my own arms again Saturday morning.

Mark and I are currently halfway through a five-day ten-year anniversary trip to Napa Valley. I know, are you just dying of jealousy yet? But do note that this little trip was five years in the making.

Five years ago, in the summer of 2007, Mark and I had the grand idea that we were going to travel to Napa in the fall, celebrating having made it through the first year of our second baby. I had done a bunch of research and had chosen a place to stay, whose name and contact information were scribbled onto my weekly To Do list, a room ready to be reserved with a single phone call.

Needless to say, that phone call never took place. And, instead of an autumn trip to Napa, we embarked on a three-year journey to the center of hell. Otherwise known as the world of pediatric cancer. I could launch into a litany of “instead of this (wine tasting), then that (chemo),” but I’ll leave it at this: this trip’s been a long time coming. (And I can only laugh to imagine having left a recently weaned Austin with my parents for a week, when I went on to nurse him til 25 months.)

But oh my, are we enjoying ourselves. Talk about indulgence! I think I’m consuming as many calories at breakfast (fresh pastries from the famed Bouchon Bakery delivered to our porch) as I usually consume in a day. And certainly drinking as much wine in an afternoon as I usually do in a week. And loving every minute of it.

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Today’s tastings were part of a 30-mile bike ride, definitely the way to go (luckily the temperature had dropped from 100-plus to the mid-80s).

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And we are staying in just about the most fabulous and charming place I’ve ever stayed (and I’ve stayed in lots of charming and fabulous places!). It’s eight cottages, each with its own mini-kitchen, indoor gas fireplace, outdoor wood firepit, all encircling a small grassy field perfect for croquet.

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Mark and I seriously encourage seven of our favorite couples join us here for a repeat trip in the next five to ten years. Feel free to nominate yourselves!

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