Monday, January 21, along with celebrating the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and inauguration day, marks the first day of National Teen Cancer awareness. While I don’t want to lessen the importance of these two great events, I don’t want to lose sight of the importance of Teen Cancer awareness. A bill introduced by Senators Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania was passed declaring this week National Teen Cancer Awareness Week. Senator Toomey kicked this off with an event at the Children’s Hospital Of Philadelphia last Friday.
Dr. Altschuler, the CEO of CHOP opened the event and introduced Senator Toomey who gave a very nice talk about the unique needs and challenges associated with teenage cancer patients. Then we heard from Alex Rotzal, who also writes a blog for Philly.com called “Living with the New Normal.” Alex went through treatment at the end of being a teenager, sort of the opposite end from me; I went through treatment just before becoming a teenager. Alex did a great job sharing his unique perspective of going through treatment in a pediatric hospital and being one of the older patients in the program at CHOP but getting the same awesome care that only CHOP can provide. Mrs. Liz Scott, co-founder of Alex’s Lemonade Stand. also gave a great talk. Alex’s Lemonade Stand, an awesome pediatric Cancer Research foundation that has been very good to CHOP, was founded in honor of her daughter Alex who died when she was 8 years old. Last Friday would have been Alex’s 17th birthday and that made this day even more special for all of us.
Teens, who really aren’t adults and really aren’t children, fall into a strange place and sometimes don’t get enough attention. Teens represent a really big part of the cancer patient population. The treatment protocols are mostly developed for adults and adopted for children. Teens kind of fall somewhere in the middle. Teens are going through all kinds of changes, physically, emotionally and socially. Although I was 11 when I was going through treatment, I’m 13 now and all kinds of crazy things are happening in and around me. This would have been really tough if I was going through treatment now. With the introduction of Teen Cancer Awareness Week, maybe we can help focus some much needed research and awareness on teenage cancer patient needs.