The Parallels between Pediatric Cancer and Pandemics


It’s no secret this year has been tough on all of us. I know I’m not alone in saying I’ve been feeling stressed out and anxious. Really stressed and really anxious. I recently realized I’ve only felt this way one other time in my life. It was when my son was in treatment for a rare form of pediatric cancer. 

I’m a glass-half-full kind of person. I like to look for the good and focus on the positive. Usually, my optimism serves me well, but sometimes it keeps me from admitting to myself that a situation or experience is truly breaking my heart. 

This pandemic is breaking my heart. Pediatric cancer breaks my heart. 

There have been a lot of parallels between the time my son was sick and the unprecedented times we are living through with this pandemic. 

It came out of nowhere

Before my son got sick, I had never given pediatric cancer a second thought. Before Covid-19, I thought pandemics were the stuff of dystopian novels. I was not prepared for either situation. I’m not sure there is a way to be prepared for either situation. 

We wore masks, so many masks

I cried when my mom sent me a homemade Star Wars mask she had made for my then ten-month-old son. He wore it on the rare occasion he left the house. At the hospital, he and I both had to wear medical-grade masks to prevent infection for certain procedures. And the nurses and doctors? They were dressed head to toe in disposable gowns, gloves, and face coverings. All to protect my little man. 

I never could have imagined I would be buying masks en masse for my family just a few years later. We wear those masks when we get groceries or gather in groups. 

I didn’t know when it would be over

The four months I spent in the hospital with my son felt like an eternity. Even when he was allowed to go home, we had a long road ahead. Months and months of chemotherapy continued treatments, and the occasional medical scare scattered here and there. 

The four months my family and I have spent in strict quarantine have felt like an eternity. Even though we are allowed to go out again, we have a long road ahead. I’m not sure when things will feel completely normal. 

There was a chance it would end very, very badly

The hard truth is children die from pediatric cancer. In fact, pediatric cancer is the number one cause of death by disease among children. It’s much harder for me to quote a solid fact about the deaths caused by Covid-19, but there have been far too many. 

The optimist in me wants to push these truths out of my mind, but I can’t because the gravity of these losses is real and painful.

There was a bigger chance it would end well

Roughly ninety percent of children diagnosed with cancer survive to adulthood. Those are some pretty great odds. Still, statistics don’t tell the whole story. And statistics are of little to no comfort to the families experiencing the pain of pediatric cancer or illness due to Covid-19. Just because the statistics are on your side, it doesn’t mean there is nothing to worry about. In my experience, few situations in life are that clear-cut. 

Additionally, both pediatric cancer and this pandemic have forced me to break out my fat pants, made me unsure of what and who to believe, and taught me to ask for help. 

Both experiences have changed me.

While we are not fully though the pandemic, and I’m not sure my son, myself, or my family will ever be completely over our experience with pediatric cancer, I do know I’m a better person as a result of these challenges. 

The optimist in me hopes we’ll all come through this pandemic kinder, stronger, and more grateful than we ever thought possible. The optimist in me hopes we can come together and make both pediatric cancer and Covid-19 history. 


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