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Kids and Cancer: This Is What Progress Looks Like

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"Awareness" is a loaded word. It subtly suggests to us that we might need to open our eyes a little wider, primarily when it comes to issues that may have slipped beneath our radar. There's Alcohol Awareness Month, Stress Awareness Month, Cyber Security Awareness Month -- all issues that we need to be aware of. (Well, I did see Awareness Awareness Month on the web -- that may be one too many.)

This month is personal to a lot of us because it's devoted to Pediatric Cancer Awareness. I'm more than a little attuned to this subject: my father founded St. Jude Children's Research Hospital more than half a century ago, so I grew up keenly aware of the urgent fight to save girls and boys from the deadly ravages of cancer. And I'm always inspired by the astonishing medical advances at St. Jude that continue to give us promise in this fight.

At St. Jude, doctors and researchers work hand-in-hand not only to cure sick kids, but to find out what makes them sick. Every day, they are exploring newer and bolder frontiers -- from identifying the genetics that gives rise to some of the world's deadliest childhood cancers, to perfecting stem cell and bone marrow transplant protocols.

These efforts are heroic -- but the true heroes in this battle are the kids themselves. Over the years, I have had the honor of meeting thousands of them, and their courage and spirit never cease to give me hope. So this Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month, I thought I'd introduce you to a few of them, because they are what progress looks like.

Aaron.jpgLike five-year-old Aaron from Virginia, whose deadly brain tumor (medulloblastoma) rendered him unable to walk and talk. But thanks to treatments at St. Jude -- which boasts the largest research-based pediatric brain tumor research program in the country -- Aaron no longer shows evidence of the disease. Says his dad, Scott, a U.S. Navy man formerly stationed in the Persian Gulf: "Aaron is definitely my hero."

Alexis.jpgOr eight-year-old Alexis from Missouri, whose fight against neuroblastoma (a cancer that forms in the nerve tissue) began when she was just two. Enrolled in a cutting-edge trial for children with her illness -- a treatment protocol that includes cell transplants -- she has begun to show real progress. And most touching of all, her transplant is coming from her greatest champion in her fight: her own mom.

Asa.jpgAnd then there's Asa, a nine-year-old old animal lover from Pennsylvania, Asa developed a mole on his chin two years ago, which was diagnosed as melanoma, a cancer that is uncommon in children. But battling the unknown is one of the hallmarks of St. Jude; and after undergoing a comprehensive treatment -- including lymph node dissection, an immunotherapy protocol and intravenous treatment -- Asa has returned home with his family to do what he loves best: caring for his pet fish and riding his pony.

I hope you'll take a moment to meet these three children and some of the other girls and boys of St. Jude by clicking on the slide show below.

This is what progress looks like -- and awareness begins with you.

Also, please read these wonderful posts from St. Jude parents:
Stories From St. Jude
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