Her necklace has 650 beads, one for each medical procedure she has been through.
Helena Kirk of Toronto was diagnosed with leukemia at age three and endured 841 days of chemotherapy to beat it. Now a 12-year-old possessed of uncommon courage and grace, she is working to ensure others have a chance at hearing the news she received four years ago: remission.
Pediatric cancer research is a rapidly evolving field, and while the work done in Canada is promising in many regards, access to cutting-edge treatments remains an issue.
A group of cancer organizations, doctors and advocates – including Ms. Kirk – is seeking $15-million to help ensure Canadian children who don’t live within easy travel of the main cancer-research centres (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver) can get the help they need without ruinous expense.
This should be a quick and simple choice. Surely Ottawa can find a way to muster what amounts to a rounding error in the grand scheme of public finance.
About 4,000 children, adolescents and young adults will be diagnosed with cancer this year (roughly 950 will be under 14), and while that constitutes only a small percentage of cancer cases nationally, the prognosis among young people is very good. The survival rate is 83 per cent, according to federal government statistics.
Getting that life-saving care, including experimental treatments, isn’t that easy, though. There are 17 pediatric-cancer facilities in the country, according to Health Canada, but not all can offer the same levels of care.
The fact is, many cancer treatments that have proven effective for adults are considered experimental in pediatric cases because their clinical trials didn’t include children. In most cases, these experimental pediatric treatments are only available in big-city teaching hospitals.
It is not too much to ask the government to lower the costs and other barriers that make it difficult for families to travel out-of-province to the facility that gives their child the best chance at survival.
Ottawa invests heavily in cancer research. Let’s make it easier for all kids to benefit from it.