Breast cancer survivor: My 7-year-old’s quest to end cancer
My husband and I have always taught our children to find the good in everything, even if they can’t see it at that moment.
But I was still surprised when I found a plastic baggie in my elder son Brayden’s room a few weeks before Halloween. He’d scribbled “$ for MD Andrson” on it and put a dollar bill and a few pennies inside. When I asked him about it, Brayden said he was collecting money he’d found on the ground or gotten from friends to give to the hospital.
“If my mama was never diagnosed with cancer, I wouldn’t be able to help other parents,” he told me. “I don’t want other kids to have to go through this. So we need to end cancer.”
How my breast cancer journey motivated my son
I was diagnosed with BRCA2+, HER2+ stage III breast cancer in January at age 28. At the time, my biggest fear was that the kids would be negatively affected by it. Instead, Brayden has turned my cancer diagnosis into an opportunity to help others, and I am so proud of him.
When my son first mentioned his idea, he was only six (Brayden turned 7 on Dec. 2, 2017), so, I thought, “He’s not going to make anything of this. He’s going to ask a few people for money, then get tired of it and put his can away.” But while we were making our trick-or-treating plans, he asked, “Mommy, do you think I could collect money at houses, too?”
I worried people would judge him or question our motives, so I polled my friends on social media. They all thought it was adorable, so I let him. And before I knew it, he’d collected almost $200.
Inspired by my son’s empathy
Since then, Brayden’s project has gotten a lot bigger than I expected. I received so many text messages from people who wished we would have gone trick-or-treating in their neighborhoods that I actually drove him around one day and let him pick up their donations. And every time I came home from running errands for several weeks, I found more bags of loose change on our doorstep. Brayden has now raised almost $400.
The most amazing part of this whole thing is that Brayden has high-functioning autism and didn’t even speak until he was 3. One of the hallmarks of autism can be a lack of empathy. But Brayden has empathy in spades, and this project is not the first time he’s shown it.
Every night, Brayden puts a new water bottle by my bed, because he knows how important it is for me to stay hydrated. He also figured out how to make sandwiches, and he made them for his little brother and sister when I was feeling really bad due to chemotherapy. Even now, he’s always asking me, “How are you feeling today, Mommy?” And that is so special to me.
‘Never underestimate what kids can do’
I’ve learned a lot from watching my son. One thing I noticed was that he never even asked for candy while trick-or-treating. His priority was collecting loose change for MD Anderson. And even though we told our kids right away when I was diagnosed (with the help of one of the social workers at MD Anderson in the Bay Area), we have no idea where he got the words to request donations. He told people, “Money is a tool. And MD Anderson doctors can use this money as a tool to end cancer.”
Last month, Brayden was learning about community helpers at school: like pastors, nurses, and police officers. Afterwards, he told me, “I don’t want to wait until I have a job to help other people.” So never underestimate what kids can do. You can be a world-changer no matter what age you are.