September is coming to a close, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop wearing gold for childhood cancer awareness. We can support pediatric cancer year-round, and for good reason.
Pediatric cancer is the number one disease killer of children in the United States, according to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation.
Childhood cancer can be considered unique. Yes, each cancer has its own manifestation and stages. Each kind wreaks havoc on the body and strains the lives of loved ones.
But what happens when your whole world is changed by the diagnosis of a life-threatening disease?
What happens when you’re a mom and your baby — your baby that knows of no bad in the world, your baby that is the light of your life — is diagnosed with cancer?
How do you survive the ultimate fight?
On May 9, 2011, Maya Thompson lost her son Ronan to stage 4 neuroblastoma nine months after diagnosis.
The American Cancer Society says that neuroblastomas as cancers that start in early nerve cells of the sympathetic nervous system.
It all began on a family trip to Washington state, as she noted on her blog that chronicled Ronan's battle with cancer.
Maya was taking photos of Ronan and her twin sons, Liam and Quinn, for a Christmas card when she thought something looked wrong with Ronan’s left eye.3
Not long after returning home to Arizona, and many doctor appointments and a visit to Phoenix Children’s Hospital later, Ronan was diagnosed.3
“The first week I was in shock. First shock, and then denial. And then you get to this place of ‘well, of course my child is going to beat this,’” said Maya. “I just tried to make myself go to a really positive place and think positive thoughts and you just really can’t think any other way.”5
If your child has cancer, you’ll probably want to crumble. You’ll probably want to cry and breakdown and scream at the universe for letting this happen. But you can’t — at least not yet.
“Ronan was my number one priority. For as many times as I wanted to break down, I just couldn’t,” Maya said. “You just need to rely on ... family and friends to kind of step in and just kind of take care of things so you can go and have that time to kind of fall apart and then pull yourself back together so you can continue, you know, to help your child.”5
A solid support system is key. Maya said they were super lucky to have so many people step up to the plate.
It was the little things that truly helped. Some people dropped off dinner at the doorstep, or did laundry. Other people just let her know they were there whenever needed.
She emphasized that it's vital not disappear on friends or family that have a child with cancer. When their world is falling apart, there is nothing worse than feeling alone.5
Maya also said it is of great importance to always be doing research. You have to ask as many questions as possible, second-guess everything, get multiple opinions, reach out to other parents in the same situation and educate yourself on the diagnosis.5
Cancer is all-consuming. In a September 2010 post, Maya said that she was “like an addict” and “Ronan’s Neuroblastoma is my drug.” She wrote how dark and lonely it is, researching at any free moment: “I can’t look back at this and regret that I did not do enough.”3
The Thompsons went through Ronan’s cancer as a family. Even though Liam and Quinn were only eight years old, Maya knew to never alienate them. She said it was important they were there for their baby brother.
Still, Maya and her husband Woody shielded them from as much as possible. On Mother’s Day 2011, Quinn slept next to Ronan most of the day and Liam insisted they stay the night at the hospital.
Early that Monday morning, Maya and Woody woke the twins. After Woody walked Liam out, Maya awoke Quinn: “I had to tell him… ‘no,’ that Ronan wasn’t coming home with us.”5
Maya took Quinn to Ronan’s room. He laid where Ronan was not too long before, crying and clutching his little brother’s blanket. After about 20 minutes, Maya scooped up Quinn and they left Ronan’s room.
“It was important for him, he needed that closure.”5
Earlier that Mother’s Day, Ronan was taken to the Ryan House for hospice.3 Maya was so in denial that her brain wouldn’t register the truth that Ronan was dying. She thought he was going in for pain control. He was constantly taking morphine.5
At 3:20 a.m., it was time.
Maya wrote,“I grabbed on to my baby boy, whispered in his ear that I loved him, but it was time to go so he needed to come with me. I kept saying, ‘Come with me, Ronan. Let’s get out of here.’ The nurse went to get Woody and when he got to the room, he kissed Ronan goodbye and that was that. His little heart just stopped.”3
It was a horrific situation, but Maya said she would give anything to be back in the hospital. Seeing the silver lining, Maya said those eight months gave them so much quality time and strengthened their bond.
She acknowledged that the hospital is the last place you want to be with a child, but they had the best time possible.5
“There’s that saying that ‘time heals all wounds,’ which makes me really angry because that’s just not the case when you lose a child,” Maya said. “I’ve kind of learned to channel my anger and turn it into more making it into my passion and just to motivate me so it’s not so toxic.”5
Upon Ronan’s diagnosis, Maya founded the Ronan Thompson Foundation to raise money for neuroblastoma research.3
She finds it sickening that only 4 percent of federal government funds for cancer research go to childhood cancer. Nevertheless, she seems optimistic about the shift in awareness and research focusing on individualized treatment conducted by Dr. Giselle Sholler.5
“She’s basically giving them more birthdays ... I would have given anything to have seen Ronan have another birthday.”5
If you want to read more about Ronan’s story, you can visit Maya’s blog.
Reviewed September 29, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
1) Facts About Childhood Cancer. National Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Retrieved September 20, 2016.
2) The Ronan Thompson Foundation. Retrieved September 20, 2016.
3) Rockstar Ronan. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
4) What is neuroblastoma? American Cancer Society. Retrieved September 20, 2016.
5) Phone call interview. Maya Thompson. September 15, 2016.