Little Warriors…Big Fight

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By: Jil Fiemeyer

I still see them in my dreams at night. The countless bald-headed children smiling and laughing as they ride down the oncology hallway of Children’s Hospital in their wheelchair. The little girl wearing her pajamas, wig and sunglasses as she takes her remote control rat for a walk and giggling when she scared a nurse. The countless kids who walked confidently down the hallway to look at the Minneapolis skyline from the big window on the 7th floor, even if it meant they had to pull the IV pole that was attached to a port in their chest.

Jane getting out of her room and scaring the nurses (who were such great sports!) with her new remote-controlled Rat she named “Ross”.

Jane getting out of her room and scaring the nurses (who were such great sports!) with her new remote-controlled Rat she named “Ross”.

These are kids who day in and day out embraced their journey to fight the cancer bully with the courage and tenacity that would put professional football players to shame.

These same kids are the ones getting injected with poison in hopes that the chemo saves their life. They lose their hair, their innocence and some even lose their lives. These little warriors, these ankle biters, these teenagers… they all have one thing in common. They are fighting a big fight – the fight against PEDIATRIC CANCER – and I’m happy to say it’s a fight that most of them win.

And while the statistics have improved, sometimes even a 90% success rate is not enough. I’m a mom whose daughter was unfortunately in the 10 percent. My daughter, Jane, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at the age of seven – when she was a second-grader at Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School. What appeared to at first be symptoms of an ear infection or maybe even Lyme Disease, within weeks was confirmed as that dreaded “C” word, CANCER. On September 6, 2012, Jane earned her ANGEL’s wings just 13 months after her diagnosis, just weeks before her ninth birthday.

Jane shortly after her diagnosis, before she lost her hair.

Jane shortly after her diagnosis, before she lost her hair.

What I learned in the last three years and probably the biggest surprise to me is that Jane’s medical journey is not that rare. Each year, the parents of approximately 16,000 American kids will hear the words “your child has cancer.” Globally there are more than 250,000 children diagnosed with cancer each year. Jane had Leukemia, possibly one of the most familiar types of cancer, but there are other types of cancers that affect children every year. Generally speaking, there are three categories of children’s cancer:

  • Leukemia: is a cancer of the blood. Leukemia cells are sick immune blood cells that do not work properly and crowd out healthy blood cells. Leukemia’s are the most common childhood cancer. Types of Leukemia include Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).
  • Lymphoma – Cancer of the immune system: The sick cells do not work properly to protect the body and they crowd out healthy cells of the immune system. Types of Lymphomas include Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
  • Solid Tumors (Sarcomas) – Cancer of the Bone, Organs or Tissues: A solid tumor is a lump of sick cells stuck together. Tumors can develop in many parts of the body including the brain, kidneys, liver and bones. These sick cells crowd out healthy cells and keep them from doing their job. Types of solid tumor cancers include Neuroblastoma, Ewing Sarcoma and Wilms Tumors.

Across all ages, ethnic groups and socio-economics, pediatric cancer remains the number one cause of death by disease in children in America. Despite major advances – from an overall survival rate of 10 percent just fifty years ago to nearly 90 percent today – for many rare cancers, the survival rate is much lower. Furthermore, the number of diagnosed cases annually has not declined in nearly 20 years.

Jane waiting patiently for her transport nurse to escort her radiology for yet another scan.

Jane waiting patiently for her transport nurse to escort her radiology for yet another scan.

Some facts about childhood cancer…

  • Every day, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer.
  • More than 40,000 children are in cancer treatment each year.
  • The average age of children diagnosed is six.
  • One out of eight children with cancer, like Jane, will not survive.
  • 60% of children who survive cancer suffer late-effects, such as infertility, heart failure and secondary cancers.
  • There are approximately 375,000 adult survivors of children’s cancer in the United States.
  • In the last 20 years only three cancer medications have been specifically developed for children.

While doctors and researchers have made strides in the battle against so many other types of cancer, the lack of funding and awareness for our children has led to an insignificant improvement in survival rates for pediatric cancer over the past decade. According to St. Baldrick’s Organization, more children are lost to cancer in the United States than any other disease – in fact, more than many other childhood diseases combined.

So how does childhood cancer become a priority cause in this country? The journey begins with each of us. We need your help to raise more funds and more awareness.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month symbolized by the color gold. It is a month to go GOLD and show your support for kids battling cancer around the world and for those who lost their battle.

Here is how you can help (Pick just one, or try them all):

  • Paint your fingernails gold or wear a gold ribbon in your hair.
  • Wear a gold ribbon pinned to your shirt and tell people why.
  • Change your social media profile photo for the entire month of September to a gold ribbon badge. Customize your own profile photo with a gold ribbon by clicking here. It’s quick, easy and free.
  • Use the hashtag #gogold when you post to social media about Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
  • Watch The Truth 365 documentary about childhood cancer. 
  • Hang gold lights in your home or business throughout the month September in honor of Childhood Cancer Month.
  • Paint a gold ribbon on your car window along with “Childhood Cancer Awareness Month”.
  • Watch Our Kids Are Worth “More Than 4”
  • Take the Whipping Childhood Cancer Challenge and challenge your friends.
  • Send a donation to CureSearch to help fund more research for childhood cancer treatments.
  • Donate blood products and get on the national bone marrow registry.
Jane and her sisters liked to play games when they came to visit her in the hospital.

Jane and her sisters liked to play games when they came to visit her in the hospital.

Support local organizations

  • Participate in the local Princess Warrior 5K Run, Walk, Roll, Stroll or Crawl. This 5K was created in honor of my daughter, Jane Fiemeyer, who died from cancer just weeks before her ninth birthday. It was her request before she died that she wanted to have a race – a race that would hopefully in one way or another help her dream for finding a cure for cancer become reality.
  • Join the “Kayleen Larson Toy Drive” and drop toys off at Coborn’s in Sartell, Minnesota. These toys are given to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis in honor of Kayleen who be forever 9 years old. Please join us in honoring her last wish.
  • Support “A Measure of Healing Hearts for Childhood Cancer” a non-profit organization that was created in honor of twins Gage and Jace, from Deer Creek, Minnesota, who battled the Neuroblastoma Cancer bully as infants and won!

My hope is that each of you will #GoGold during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Together, we can make significant progress toward ending children’s cancer.

Because children are more precious than gold.

About the writer: Jil Fiemeyer is a Wadena native and a Communications Specialist on the marketing team at Tri-County Health Care. She is the mother of three beautiful girls and enjoys each and every day of being their mom. Since her daughter’s Leukemia diagnosis and her death, Jil has learned first-hand the effects of grief and how it manifests around the ones you love. As her way to heal, Jil enjoys writing and has recently started talking to groups about grief, grief recovery and living your best life despite all the struggles that life has to offer.


*Tri-County Health Care hosts a “Parents Who Have Lost a Child” support group to help those in the area affected by the loss of a child. They meet the second Monday of the month from 5:30 – 7 p.m. in the Wesley Conference Room at Tri-County Health Care. Click here to learn more…