Through years of tedious work, researchers – including those at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – were able last year to finally put childhood cancer into global perspective. Their first of its kind work paints such a distressing picture – 400,000 new cases every year, at least half never diagnosed or treated.
Only 20 percent of those 400,000 kids will survive their disease while here, in the U.S., the survival rate is four times that. The math is undeniable: more than 6 million kids could be saved in the next three decades.
But even as I listened to the incredible Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, one of those researchers at St. Jude, recite those horrifying numbers this week during an online conversation with our supporters, I couldn’t help be hopeful – even in the midst of a pandemic.
Hopeful, because this amazing man’s brilliant mind – and his huge, empathetic heart – are focused on the problem like never before through the program he runs, St. Jude Global.
Hopeful because of his words, his intentions:
“All that progress we’ve made, it’s for nothing unless we can think about how to make that a goal for all the children in the world.”
That statement gave me such pride because it epitomizes the mission Danny Thomas set us on decades ago when he opened the doors to St. Jude. His mission then is our mission now: to see that no child – anywhere – dies from cancer.
Hopefully you know the incredible progress we’ve made toward that goal in the U.S. where survival rates are above 80 percent and for the most common form of childhood cancer, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, more than 94 percent. But in too much of the world – it’s as if we’re still stuck in 1962 when Danny opened St. Jude to predictions the disease was incurable.
One of the privileges of my jobs is to know many of the young patients at St. Jude. I know their personalities and, more than anything, their tender hearts. I know their life ambitions. Their dreams. So it’s unthinkable the lives of so many kids in so many places – especially Asia and Africa – will be lost before any of us can see their promise like I see in every one of the kids who come through our doors.
The role of St. Jude is to build capacity where there is none and strength existing programs. We teach, train and consult. Doctors and researchers. Government leaders. Fundraisers. All in a coordinated fashion with the World Health Organization and in partnership with local hospitals and foundations in more than 50 countries with the goal of raising the survival rate of the six most common forms of childhood cancer to 60 percent by 2030.
The rapid emergence of COVID-19 has made this an even steeper climb. The virus doesn’t just threaten the lives of already immunocompromised kids. In many places in the world, it makes access to care even more precarious and insufficient than normal.
But my hope emerges from the darkness again as Dr. Rodriguez-Galindo described a call, just that day, with hundreds of partners around the globe to discuss how they can move through the heightened challenge – united despite, in many cases, geopolitical differences.
“It’s not a simple thing,” he said. “It requires the best of us…a dream with a unified vision.”
That’s been our mission since Danny opened our doors. And because of you – our generous donors – we’ve not veered from it, nor will we -- not even in a pandemic he could have never envisioned.
Dr. Rodriguez-Galindo said it better than I can:
“We just would like to see, wherever there is a child with cancer in the world, wherever that child is, they have a better chance because of what we’re doing.”
Richard C. Shadyac Jr. is President and CEO of American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.