Parents, doctors and kids celebrate the fight against pediatric cancer

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Amidst the clamor of construction and downtown traffic Tuesday, a crowd of patients, nurses and doctors met outside of Kaiser Oakland’s pediatric building to support National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Adorned in school bus-yellow t-shirts emblazoned with “Little Kids Get Cancer, Too,” health care providers and families gathered outside the hospital’s pediatric unit in downtown Oakland. Together, the group rallied to promote childhood cancer awareness and celebrate patients’ personal triumphs against the disease.

The gathering was conceived by Clarence Berger-Greer, whose son Teddy, age 3, is currently being treated at Kaiser Oakland Medical Center for neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer. “I felt like the children needed some sort of recognition,” she said. “When I asked the hospital if they could come up with a yellow t-shirt for them, they responded immediately.”

As midday grew near, some eighty health care workers emerged from the building, jettisoning their nametags and stethoscopes to don the yellow shirts in honor of their patients. A short walk to the hospital’s Serenity Garden began, led by Pediatric Intensive Care Unit nurse manager Jolynn Piazza. “What do we want?” she cheered. “Cancer cure!” the crowd responded. Small children were carried to garden in the arms of their parents, while other patients sat in wheelchairs pushed by the hospital staff.

The crowd sauntered into the garden, following its serpentine path to a central courtyard decorated with golden balloons. The children are placed in the shade of trees overhead. Jerome Adeyemi, a chaplain at Kaiser Oakland, recited a verse from Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” “To live is to suffer,” he said, projecting his voice solemnly across the garden. “To survive is to find meaning in the suffering.” Parents nodded their heads in acknowledgement.

“Events like these are what keep you going,” said Jorge Gutierrez, a pediatric intensive care physician who grew up in Oakland. “It gives us an opportunity to step back from our clinical work and celebrate the successes we’ve had treating children with cancer.”

“The nurses and the staff become part of your family while you’re going through all of this,” said Colleen Plummer whose son Gavin, age 4, was diagnosed in 2010 with a tumor. Plummer wears beads in long strands that signify the procedures Gavin’s undergone or milestones he’s passed. “The silver ones represent his dressing changes,” she said, rubbing the beads between her fingers. “White is for hospital visits. The stars are for surgery.”

She pulled out a ring decorated with small turquoise bumps. “These are for when he’s got a bumpy road ahead,” Plummer said with a laugh. “Gavin’s spirit is good, which is what pulls all of us through the hard times.”

Berger-Greer looked down admiringly at her son, who was standing next to her. “Parents have raised millions of dollars to provide treatment for these children. This is the message we have to get out to everyone,” she said.  Teddy suddenly sprinted off, running playfully across the courtyard. “He’s very happy today,” said Berger-Greer. “He’s very comfortable around adults. That’s all he knows.”

Gutierrez quietly watched the kids play in the courtyard. A slight wind knocked around several golden balloons attached to the railing beside him. “One patient I cared for many years ago…” he began, and then paused. “Not only is she an adult and college graduate but now she’s a mother,” he continued, his voice breaking. “For me, it’s a privilege to work with these children.”

 

6 Comments

  1. ancelet renee

    Je savais que j’avais une fille extraordinaire et mon petit Teddy merveilleux ,ils viennent de le confirmer tous les 2.Un grand merci à l’équipe médicale de l’hôpital de Okland qui sont très attentifs aux enfants qui leur sont confiés.Bravo à tous

  2. Clarence is an amazingly strong and loving mother and all families fighting cancer need our help – they need us to stand up for them.

    You quote: “Parents have raised millions” – but the fact is the National Cancer Institute only give 3% of its funding to fight ALL childhood cancers. Cancer is the # 1 killer by disease of our children, even more than AIDS, asthma, cystic fibrosis and diabetes combined!!

    Every parent needs to be aware that on average 46 children every day are diagnosed with cancer (2 classrooms, everyday) – it is not rare and it could happen to your family, your friends, your neighborhood. And sadly 7 children die every day, 7 families have their lives torn apart by this disease.

    The travesty is that drug companies won’t develop new drugs b/c there’s no money in it for them and the government is not fighting to save our kids. The drugs that are used now were designed in the 1950s – there has only been 1 new drug for kids cancer in the last 20 years!

    On Sept 30 a film is being released to shine a light on this injustice and neglect – to give a voice to the children, families and doctors fighting for a fair chance to cure cancer. The Truth 365 film is a movement to save all kids that have cancer and the ones that WILL be diagnosed with cancer.

    Please visit http://www.facebook.com/thetruth365film

    http://www.thetruth365.org

    Love and strength to all of the kids and families fighting cancer!

  3. Marie Agustin

    Thank you for taking the time to write about the walkathon for “Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month” at Kaiser Oakland. I participated not only because I am a healthcare provider for children for years now,but also, because I am a passionate mother and advocate for my son. He bravely battled and survived Hodgkins Lymphoma this past year and he’s my “HERO”!!! Excellent job Charles.

    • Charles Berkowitz

      I appreciate your kind words and, of course, support the film @ http://www.thetruth365.org
      This issue is vital to our national dialogue.
      It was an honor and a privilege to do this report.
      Thank you all for your hard work and dedication.

      Charles Berkowitz

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