Each year, more than 13,000 parents will learn that their child has cancer. Heartbreakingly, one out of every five children diagnosed with cancer will not survive.
C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital kicked off a new campaign this month to help change that. The effort is called “Block Out Cancer," a push to raise awareness of the need for more funding for children's cancer research.
For families suddenly facing the devastating diagnosis of childhood cancer, it's a fight for hope.
Tracy Dybalski of Hartland, Mich., will never forget the moment she learned her then 4-and-1/2-year-old son Mitchell had cancer.
"Everything kind of went dark. I could see, but I couldn't hear," said Dybalski. "It's a parent's worst nightmare really. I mean anything that happens to your child is serious, but cancer was not even in the ballpark."
Mitchell's parents had been searching for several months for the cause of his frequent abdominal pain. They were stunned when he was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare cancer that begins in nerve tissue.
"Mitchell's tumor was about the size of a grapefruit, and it did spread to other parts of his body," said Dybalski.
There was no family history of cancer.
"Everyone was healthy. It wasn't supposed to happen to our family. But it did," said John Dybalski, Mitchell's dad.
Right from the start, Mitchell's attitude set the tone for their fight.
"He said, 'Don't worry Dad, we'll beat this,'" said John Dybalski.
Mitchell endured chemotherapy, surgery and more.
His parents were shocked to learn all types of childhood cancers combined receive just 4 percent of federal funding for cancer research.
"It's a matter of life and death," said Tracy Dybalski. "These kids really need research and need more funding."
Doctors who treat children with cancer agree.
"It is the No. 1 cause of death by disease in children. We need to do more to find cures and treatment. This campaign is about letting everyone know that they can be part of the effort to block out cancer," said Dr. Valerie P. Castle, chair of pediatrics and communicable diseases at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
"There's really only one way that we're going to be able to offer a guarantee of a cure to every child with cancer, and that is, we have to advance science," said Dr. Erika Newman, a pediatric surgeon at C.S. Mott.
Mitchell is one of the lucky ones. He responded well to the treatments available.
"He's happy. He's healthy. He's in remission. He's beyond this," said Tracy Dybalski. "And I just want him to be a normal kid."
Donations to Block Out Cancer can be made by clicking here. http://www.mottchildren.org/blockoutcancer T-shirts featuring the Block Out Cancer logo can also be purchased.
"Just by spreading the word, you can be a hero. And every gift, no matter the size, helps us advance research and move closer to better treatments or even cures," said Castle.