Editor’s note: Tony Stoddard is a childhood cancer advocate. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely his.
(CNN) — My son Cole died two and a half years ago from neuroblastoma, a common childhood cancer, after suffering through multiple surgeries, chemotherapy injections and painful radiation therapy.
These treatments (while standard for this type of cancer) were so barbaric and horrifying I would not wish them on my worst enemy. Nor would I wish him or her to have to live with the image of their child experiencing their gruesome side effects.
Cole was just 5 years old. He left behind my wife Michelle and I, a heartbroken twin brother named Troy and his loving big sister Tara. Our family has been devastated by this loss.
I miss my son every second of every day.
By talking to many other parents who have lost children to childhood cancer, I have come to understand that this pain will last until I am gone.
A week before Cole died in our arms, he looked up at me and said, “I’m not going to grow up to be or do anything.” Can you imagine hearing your child speak such words? Fighting back tears, I promised my son he would do “something big” someday.
For two years now I have been fighting around the clock to fulfill my promise to my son. I do this in hopes that greater awareness will lead to desperately needed funding and research, so children can receive more humane treatments and have a better chance of survival, with fewer future complications.
Pediatric cancer kills more kids in the United States than any other disease. And more than 11,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year. Yet the National Cancer Institute devotes just 4% of its budget toward pediatric cancer research. Surely these statistics speak of the dire need for increased funding to fight pediatric cancer.
I began my mission to increase childhood cancer awareness in August 2012. My dream was to see as much gold in September for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month as there is pink in October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The awareness generated by the breast cancer community has led to earlier detection, newer and improved treatments, and higher survival rates for those fighting breast cancer.
I just wanted the same for kids fighting cancer.
I started reaching out to officials at bridges, buildings and landmarks across the United States, asking that they light gold in September to help increase awareness. I was successful in getting many to agree: the Prudential Building, the Zakim Bridge and the TD Garden in Boston; the battleship New Jersey and the Liberty Bridge in Greenville, South Carolina.
Many others across the United States began to reach out to structures in their hometowns.
Our movement to go gold in September even took root in countries such as Ireland, Australia, Canada and Switzerland. Last year, there was more gold displayed in September across the world than ever before, and we are just beginning.
Please display gold this September to help shed light on the monster that afflicts so many of our children. Lighting gold is the first step toward greater awareness of childhood cancer — awareness that will hopefully lead to increased funding, which will lead to more research, that will hopefully lead to a cure for all types of childhood cancer.
But there is another reason to light gold: It helps to heal the hearts of parents such as myself who have lost children to cancer. It lets us know our children did not die in vain. It shows us our kids are not forgotten.
My son received most of his treatments at Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. After my son died, I had a difficult time going back to Boston; there were too many painful memories there. But last September, I returned to see many of the landmarks we had crossed and passed by so often illuminated with gold lights.
I smiled, with tears streaming down my cheeks, looking at the buildings and bridges shining gold and thought:
You are doing “something big” Cole!