Public urged to be aware of childhood cancers

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- Cancer can impact anybody, even the smallest of us.

There were a few Albany area families present to witness Mayor Willie Adams sign a proclamation Tuesday designating September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in Albany. Among those attending was the Wright family, whose son Ward Wright is the subject of the "Pray for Ward" signs that have been placed in various sites throughout the city.

Ward, 5, was diagnosed with stage four cancer last year after a tumor in his abdomen had metastasized to his spine. He will soon be continuing an additional two weeks of treatment at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, after which time he will undergo scanning to determine whether he is cancer-free.

On the local level, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is sponsored by Jay's HOPE Foundation in Macon, a non-profit organization started by a couple, Jason and Cindy Gaskins, whose son died following a three-year battle against medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor, in 2006.

"Jay's HOPE was founded by parents with a personal connection to this cause," said Maranda Wright, Ward's mother. "Day-to-day support is not found in any other type of organization. For us, they've turned a life event that was devastating into something (that is livable)."

"The world does not stop when your child gets sick," said Cindy Gaskins, the executive director for Jay's HOPE. "It really all started out as a way to support families."

The organization is looking to eventually have a presence throughout Georgia. Proclamations have been signed in Macon, Gray, Savannah and in the Georgia Senate. A proclamation is set to be signed in Forsyth later this week, Cindy Gaskins said.

"Every year it seems to be getting bigger and bigger," she said.

With a daughter currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer and a mother who died of leukemia, Adams has some strong personal connections to this topic.

"These young kids that are victims of cancer need our support and prayers," the mayor said. "These young kids are our future.

"(Having family connections to cancer) has made me acutely aware that the disease can visit at any time. Some people might not understand the pain involved. As a community we should give all the support we can render to them."

The incidence of childhood cancer has increased every year for the past 25 years. Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children. Nationally, more than 3,000 people under the age of 20 die of cancer each year. There are 46 children daily who are diagnosed with cancer. Currently, more than 50,000 children and adolescents are being treated for childhood cancers.

Since 2004, the pediatric oncology population in Georgia has risen 347 percent.

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is sponsored by CureSearch National Childhood Cancer Foundation. CureSearch supports the work of 5,000 physicians, nurses and scientists conducting clinical trail research in the effort to find a cure.

Since its inception, Jay's HOPE has offered social, emotional, spiritual and financial support to more than 450 children and their families throughout Georgia. The foundation also helps coordinate bone marrow drives.

"Our slogan is that we cover everything from bed bugs to butt cream," Cindy Gaskins said.

For more information on the Foundation, call (478) 238-6360 or visit www.jayshope.org.