Raising awareness of pediatric cancer

On the steps of St. Ephrem’s Church in Dyker Heights, local advocates gathered on the afternoon of Tuesday, September 3, to mark a milestone – the beginning of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, whose goal is to shine a spotlight on a disease that has ravaged all too many families.

The event was organized by Frankie’s Mission, the not-for-profit group founded by Camille Loccisano in memory of her son, Francesco, who died at age 17 after a three-year battle with cancer, and Loccisano brought together children and adults who have been closely touched by pediatric cancer to push for the passage, in Congress, of the Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Reauthorization Act.

The legislation, should it pass, would expand research into pediatric cancer, fund states to identify and track trends in child, adolescent and young adult cancer, and encourage study of the barriers to the treatment of pediatric cancer, including the fact that, currently, the treatments for pediatric cancer are by and large scaled-down versions of treatments used for adult cancer, not treatments that have been developed specifically for kids.

“It’s such a meaningful day, such a meaningful month,” said Loccisano. “We are all here for one reason – to change the hurt of childhood cancer,” hurt, she stressed, that is simultaneously “physical, emotional and spiritual.

“There’s something wrong and we are here to make it right,” she went on, recalling that, just a day earlier would have been her son’s 23rd birthday. “There’s so much he didn’t get to see, so much other children didn’t get to see.

“Next week, next month, more children will be diagnosed with childhood cancer,” Loccisano stressed. “We need to stop the cancer. We need to stop the hurt of childhood cancer.”

It’s not just about the children who succumbed to the disease, Loccisano went on. “There are survivors in the community,” she noted, mentioning some area children who have gotten cancer and beaten it – their success underlining the need for more and better treatments to help more pediatric cancer sufferers survive and thrive.

Congressmember Michael Grimm – a supporter of the legislation — attended the kick-off. “These are real people, these are children,” he said of those who would be helped by it, turning to gesture to the children arrayed behind him who are part, in one way or another, of the extended cancer community. “Look at their faces. Look in their eyes. We have to do anything we can to make sure we’re doing anything and everything we can to get rid of this dreadful disease. The stakes are too high.”

One who knows the stakes all too well is Enza Bocuzzi, whose not-quite-three-year-old daughter Olivia succumbed to the disease after less than a year. Bocuzzi and her family have started a foundation to raise money for pediatric cancer research, in hopes of helping other children to avert the same fate.

“We are beside ourselves with grief. Our family is devastated and changed, but doing nothing wouldn’t do any good,” Bocuzzi said, adding, “We are an average family on an average block. If it could happen to us, it could happen to anyone.”

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