For families afflicted by the cruel menace of childhood cancer, the devastating disease is only compounded by a dearth of funding and dated treatments that are not only painful, but risky. A group of concerned advocates and local officials hope to change that reality, lighting up monuments, public buildings and regular residences in gold to raise awareness, and by proposing a new initiative to sell vanity license plates that would fund research for updated and more humane treatment regimens.
“We’ve had a busy month, which is good,” said Camille Loccisano, who lost her son Francesco to cancer and founded “Frankie’s Mission,” which aims to make childhood cancer research a national priority. “Let’s get us to a time when we can speak of this illness in the past tense. I don’t want anyone else to have to know what it’s like.”
— FrankiesMission (@FrankiesMission) September 14, 2014
On Monday evening, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and City Concil Member Vincent Gentile (D-Brooklyn) gathered with local advocates to show support for childhood cancer awareness by lighting up Brooklyn’s Borough Hall in solidarity. The building’s “going gold” follows similar events with other monuments, like the parachute jump in Coney Island several weeks ago, and will last from September 15th to the 21st.
As the Borough President spoke, the children of those who gathered ran about.
“Let them run and play,” Borough President Adams said. “They’re the embodiment of why we’re doing this.”
Adams explained that, according to figures from the American Caner Society, some 15,780 children (aged 0 to 13) are expected to be diagnosed with cancer this year alone, and that some 1,960 of them will ultimately perish. Meanwhile, less than ten percent of the federal budget is donated to childhood cancer.
“How do we turn from a place of pain to one of purpose?” the Borough President asked. “There’s nothing more important than this.”
For that reason, the Borough President and Council Member Gentile are introducing legislation to use proceeds from vanity license plate sales to raise money for research and treatment that will help combat the disease. The distinctive license plates, bearing the words “cure childhood cancer,” will be available for those who make donations in excess of $6,000 to a childhood cancer trust fund. Sample license plate designs were on display at the event.
“All of Brooklyn is now on record that we need more money to fight childhood cancer,” said Council Member Gentile. “Hopefully fellow Brooklynites will see the gold and understand the need to raise awareness for pediatric cancer, which is different from adult cancer but only funded at 3-4% of the overall budget devoted to cancer’s cause.”
Gentile added that, as a result of the lack of funding, some of the treatments for afflicted children were 10-12 years old, and involved a mere cutdown of adult doses of treatment. The treatments can be highly invasive and more risky to the child than the cancer itself.
Teri Brennan, who helped found Bay Ridge Cares, a non-profit organization, mentioned how the community sprung to action after officials at the Empire State Building repeatedly sontewalled their requests for a “go gold” ceremony involving the famed skyscraper.
“We have people who stepped up after seeing so many in frustration and pain,” Brennan said.
The organization helped distribute some 700 “go gold” ribbons and flyers that were posted on houses, and 11 sites throughout the Bay Ridge neighborhood ultimately participated in “go gold” lightings.
Matt Kabel, whose daughter Sally is battling leukemia, echoed the sentiment that the Empire State Building’s refusal was an unintentional blessing.
“I can actually see the Empire State Building from the Borough Hall steps,” Kabel said. “I want to quietly send a thank you to them for denying our request to ‘go gold.’ Instead, we’ve lit up the rest of the city, from Coney Island to City Hall.”
Kabel (and others) mentioned locations like Penn Station and Times Square participating with their efforts to “go gold,” providing more attention than a single lighting ceremony could ever have.
“One ‘no’ led to so many ‘yeses,'” Kabel said.
But he added more somberly that treatments for Sally, a sixth-generation Brooklynite, were “often worse than the cancer,” and heart failure was a particular concern.
“This is a step in the right direction. But now let’s do more,” Kabel added in conclusion. “From gold shoes to gold nail polish, I’m for it.”
Enza Boccuzzi, who lost her daughter Olivia to a brain tumor, provided the final remarks.
“For a parent, your whole world turns upside down overnight,” Boccuzzi said. She reflected on having to deal with treatments “that were experimental, that were ‘phase one,’ that didn’t work.”
“Children are our most precious little people,” Boccuzzi said. “We should do more for them.”