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What September Means to me: by Clarissa Schilstra

goldribbonby Clarissa Schilstra, CKN Section Editor


“Turning Awareness into Action”


Awareness…..what does it really mean? September is here and with it starts Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  As a two-time childhood cancer survivor, I am always grateful for this month that reminds me of what I have been through and how far I have been able to come.  Social media goes gold and Facebook fills with the stories of children battling and surviving cancer.  This awareness effort is so important to help the world understand the impact of cancer on a child’s life.


However, I also wonder if there should be a lot more to the month of September than just “awareness.”  I think September could also be Childhood Cancer Action Month.


What if we could also use September to create change? For me, September is an opportunity for me to take that gold and those Facebook posts and call attention to what still needs to be done for children with cancer.  And to take action on those needs.  There are so many things other than the cancer treatment itself that the world does not usually consider when we think about raising awareness for childhood cancer.


Cancer treatment affects every single aspect of a child’s life: school, friends, social development, family relationships, physical appearance, and much more.   While I am a strong supporter of research and medical advances that make cancer treatment more effective and less toxic for children, as I have personally benefitted from the advances that happened in the 10 years before my initial diagnosis and my relapse, I personally know that there is much more to cancer treatment than the medicines themselves.  Families need financial support to afford the immense costs of treatment.  Patients need social support and psychosocial resources to help them combat the isolation and lack of social contact imposed by cancer treatment.  Missed school means tutors and additional educational resources are needed to help these children stay on track with their peers and have an opportunity for the bright future every child deserves.  The physical impact of treatment means bodily changes that can negatively affect self-esteem and that these children may not be able to do the same things as their healthy peers.


For me, September is a chance to find new ways to help kids with cancer overcome all of these barriers imposed by treatment.  This September, I can try and figure out how I can make the changes needed to make the cancer experience a little less like a roller coaster for the many children who must go through it.  I can volunteer at my local children’s hospital.  I can search for and share on social media the names of organizations that work to help children with cancer by financially assisting their families, providing educational resources, or hosting support groups and social activities for children with cancer and their families.  I can also support those organizations by volunteering with them or donating to them.


This September, I encourage you to turn Childhood Cancer Awareness Month into Childhood Cancer Action Month. 




clarissashilstraClarissa Schilstra is a two-time cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia for the first time when she was two and a half years old. She went through two and a half years of chemotherapy and survived. She led a happy and healthy life until June of 2007, shortly before her 13th birthday, when her cancer relapsed.   She then went through another two and a half years of chemotherapy, this time accompanied by radiation. She is now twenty-two years old and a graduate of Duke University. Her passion is helping others cope with the ups and downs of life during and after cancer treatment. She currently works full-time as a research assistant in a pediatric health psychology lab at the University of Miami, but it is her goal to become a pediatric clinical psychologist and she would like to help improve the psychological care available to adolescents and young adults who have serious illnesses. As CKN Section Editor, Clarissa hopes to provide advice based on her personal experience and to share relevant news and research to help young adult patients and survivors find new ways to live their best life in spite of the shadow of cancer.  You can find Clarissa’s book, Riding the Cancer Coaster: Survival Guide for Teens and Young Adults, on  To learn more about Clarissa and her book, or to find AYA cancer support resources, visit her website and blog at



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