A voice for kids, the Pediatric Cancer Caucus offers hope, knowledge, care

I understand from experience the ordeals of the more than 14,000 American families coping with pediatric cancer. My daughter, Alex, was diagnosed with a highly fatal form of glioblastoma, or brain cancer, when she was just 4 years old. Thankfully, and despite the odds, her cancer is now in remission. She’s a happy 8-year-old and I had the great fortune of going trick-or-treating with her last week (she dressed as a Rainbow Princess).

I served for many years in the Navy, but no training or experience could ever prepare me for the pain and sense of powerlessness one feels when his or her child is diagnosed with cancer. We parents are all bound by one common, overpowering desire — to protect our children. No matter the extent we go — as parents, communities or country — to shield our children from harm, nothing we know of can yet protect them from cancer that strikes, seemingly, from nowhere. What we can and must do is fund and encourage research to prevent and fight cancer, treat those who are ill, and support families through this most difficult of times.

My experience with Alex motivated me to run for Congress to see that all Americans have access to the kind of lifesaving care she received through my military health coverage. And this year, I was very proud to announce the formation of the House Pediatric Cancer Caucus.

The mission of the Pediatric Cancer Caucus is to serve as a clearinghouse for information on pediatric cancer and act as a bipartisan forum to aid members of Congress in working together to address the diseases. Its goals include increasing funding for pediatric cancer research, encouraging the collaboration between the public sector and private research organizations and supporting the training of skilled pediatric cancer specialists. As the first initiative of the caucus, I introduced a House resolution commemorating Pediatric Cancer Awareness Day in September.

I believe the caucus will encourage events and organizations like Penn State’s childhood cancer dance marathon fundraiser (known as “THON,” and already the largest student-run philanthropy in the world) as well as build on recent legislative successes, such as last year’s passage of the Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Act, which directs $30 million to medical research and treatments, ensures families have access to the current treatments and information, establishes a national childhood cancer database, and promotes public awareness of pediatric cancers.

There are reasons for hope. Already, treatment of pediatric cancer is one of modern medicine’s great success stories. A generation ago, children diagnosed with cancer had little chance for a cure. Now, most children survive cancer, but after the ordeals of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, they face an uncertain future of threats of remission and long-term side effects of treatment or disease, such as cognitive disability, organ damage and chronic pain.

I firmly believe that it is only through the collaboration of the government, private organizations, doctors, and the families affected by this devastating illness that we can come closer to finding a cure. The establishment of the House Pediatric Cancer Caucus is a significant step forward that will give voices to thousands of children and represent the struggles of every family battling the disease.

Sestak is a member of the House Armed Services Committee; Education and Labor; and Small Business.