Families, nurses: 'Appalling' so little funding goes to pediatric cancer research

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Throughout September you've likely seen many "Go Gold." September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and the month aims to bring awareness to the more than 15,000 children who will be diagnosed with pediatric cancer this year.

While great strides have been made in the fight against childhood cancer, each year nearly 2,000 children die from the disease -- a number that is much more than a statistic for those who face the reality of it every day.

Michelle Williams, a pediatric oncology nurse at Palmetto Health Children's Hospital, shares it was a personal experience that led her to the field of pediatric cancer.

"I had a child to pass of a childhood cancer in 2001, which is why I am a pediatric oncology nurse," Williams said. "The families that we come in contact with and see on a daily basis grow so dear to our hearts."

That includes the family of Kaylin Zimms. We covered Kaylin's battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Williams was one of Kaylin's nurses during the time she spent at Palmetto Health Children's Hospital before being transferred to MUSC.

"Kaylin did not have the odds in her favor, but she was a spunky little girl and defied all those odds for 14 months," Williams said as she showed a video of Kaylin doing a cheer she made up for nurse Michelle. "I just loved her dearly."

Kaylin passed away on Aug. 28, just before the start of September.

"Her passing right at that mark, it kind of puts me in an uproar in wanting to be more proactive in spreading awareness and shouting from the roof that we need more than 4 percent of funding," Williams said.

Williams was referencing the fact that only 4 percent of federal funding to the National Cancer Institute goes toward researching pediatric cancer.

"It's kind of appalling actually," Vanessa Traylor, whose son Judah is currently being treated at Palmetto Health Children's Hospital, said. "These are our babies, these could be your babies. They deserve the best and they deserve not to deal with this."

Judah is fighting two forms of Leukemia, but he's actively running around the unit when he feels up for it. Nurse Tony Templeton said he's always inspired by the positive spirit of the children on the unit.

"People have no idea," said Templeton. "These kids, a lot of them are very sick."

"This is our first Childhood Cancer Awareness Month with him having cancer," Vanessa said. "For us, it just means we don't want anyone else to have to go through this and we don't want other children to have to go through this."

But right now thousands of families face this same reality. Dr. Ron Neuberg at Palmetto Health Children's Hospital says while the overall survival rate for childhood cancer has increased from 50 to a little more than 80 percent over the last 30 years, he's looking beyond the numbers.

"Don't tell a parent whose child has refractory leukemia and is at the end of life, that 80 percent is great," Neuburg said. "Because really it's 100 percent one way or another either you're cured or you're not."

Neuburg says that's why pediatric cancer advocates continue to fight for more federal funding in the search for a cure. Palmetto Health Children's Hospital is part of the national research organization, the Children's Oncology Group.

"We will not stop until we have 100 percent cure rate with 0 percent toxicity," Neuburg said.

In addition to working toward that cure, researchers are also working constantly toward better treatments. Some children suffer life-threatening or lifelong side effects from the cancer treatments themselves.

If you're one of the thousands who believe pediatric cancer deserves more than 4 percent federal funding, you're encouraged to write a letter to your local, state, and federal legislators.

If you'd like to donate to organizations that help in the fight against cancer, some of those agencies include:

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