For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
September 17, 2003
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the National Childhood Cancer Foundation Gold Ribbon Days 2003
Thank you, Congresswoman Pryce for your dedication to children and families affected by cancer. A special thanks to Paul Burke and members of the National Childhood Cancer Foundation and the Children's Oncology Group for leading the charge to find cures for childhood cancer. Thanks also to the survivors, parents and friends for sharing your stories and inspiring us. I'm glad to be here to celebrate Gold Ribbon Days.
I'm wearing my gold ribbon because I believe that together we can find a cure for every child with cancer. There are many personal stories of triumph and tragedy. When told together-in one voice, these stories become lessons-in courage and hope for us all. By sharing your stories you show the world that children with cancer are not statistics - but young people with hope, passion, and purpose. I've met some amazing children and families this morning. And I want to share their stories with you.
I'm here because of our friends Dick and Mary and their daughter Lindsay. The Paynes' entire life was turned upside down in forty minutes - when a blood test for mono revealed that Lindsay had leukemia. A gifted athlete, Lindsay was devastated at the thought of never swimming again. Mary's heart broke when Lindsay told her, "You'll never know the dreams I had." Dick and Mary knew little about childhood cancer, but at that moment, they knew they would fight to find a cure. After two years of radiation, Lindsay's cancer was in remission. And today, six years later, Lindsay is fulfilling her dreams as a swimming champion at Williams College. Dick and Mary, thank you for including me in this special day.
Lindsay is proof that cancer survivors can lead extraordinary lives - and that hope is our greatest strength. Our progress against cancer is dramatic, and it's improving. President Bush greatly increased the budget of the National Institutes of Health because he knows that research and education can help us find a cure. My husband was six years old when his three-year-old sister Robin was diagnosed with leukemia. His parents, George and Barbara Bush had never heard of leukemia. The doctor told them there was no cure. Her advice was to tell no one, go home, and make Robin as comfortable as possible. But Robin's parents weren't willing to accept that advice.
The next day they left George and his baby brother Jeb at home in Texas with friends, and took Robin to Sloan-Kettering hospital in New York. The doctors could only give Robin medicine and wait. Robin endured bone marrow tests and blood transfusions. To help ease her pain, her grandfather taught her to play Gin Rummy. Three-year old Robin called it Gin Mummy. Soon, Robin went into a coma and passed away with her mom and dad by her side. Adjusting to life after Robin's death was difficult. Friends and family didn't want to talk about her. George help to ease the pain with humor only a child can provide.
George's dad took him to a football game one afternoon. During the game, my husband suddenly said, "I wish I was Robin." All of the adults stiffened with shock. His dad asked him what he meant and George said, "I bet Robin can see the game better from up there than we can from down here."
Robin's story is tragic, and yet we find hope in the progress that has been made in fighting childhood cancer. Thirty years ago, cure rates were less than ten percent, while today, the survival rate is seventy-seven percent and rising. Thanks to the dedicated doctors, nurses, and scientists of the Children's Oncology Group, we are closer than ever to finding cures. This network is a model of excellence in the world of medicine today. Cooperative research is essential to advancing treatments and cures. Research and technology are helping us make great strides - and so are survivors.
Amy Dilbeck said, "When I learned that I had an eighty percent chance of living because of the Children's Oncology Group, I was so thankful. This motivated me to get involved because I learned that research and people can make a difference." Today, seven years after she was diagnosed with cancer, Amy is making a difference for the National Childhood Cancer Foundation. Amy was a typical sixteen-year-old, daydreaming of boys and the prom when she learned that she had sarcoma. She went from class president to a cancer patient in two weeks.
Amy endured more than eight hours of surgery and then chemotherapy. After hearing about the Children's Oncology Group, she realized what she wanted to do with her life. Amy said, "When you're in the hospital you can't do much, but you can when you get out. You can't expect someone to understand you unless you share who you are with them. Through this experience, I've learned my purpose in life."
Kelly Cotter also learned that helping children with cancer was her purpose. When Kelly was diagnosed with leukemia at age eleven, she thought cancer was something that happened to somebody else. She started chemotherapy, but soon relapsed. Her only chance was a bone marrow transplant. Her eight-year old brother Adam was a perfect match. Adam endured six incisions in his hip bone and two hundred extractions for a half liter of bone marrow. This brave little boy said it was the best day of his life.
Kelly wanted to make something positive of her experience. She said, "As a cancer patient, your views and perspectives are different - you know what it's like to live or die. You want to help other children." She started visiting children in the hospital and volunteered with the National Childhood Cancer Foundation. She went to law school with the hope of advancing legislation for childhood cancer. Today, she is helping to create policy and awareness for the foundation.
Kelly and Amy, thank you for inspiring us. Every child who has survived cancer has developed an amazing resiliency to adapt to new situations and people. Remember these experiences - they make you who you are - and they will help you throughout your life. Cancer has changed your lives - but it does not define you. You aren't just survivors. You are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, best friends, lawyers and even magicians. Each of you is proof that there is a little bit of magic in the world.
Chad Juros's story of survival is nothing short of magic. He was diagnosed with leukemia at age three. He began treatment, but soon relapsed. His chances of survival went from eighty percent to five percent. He needed a bone marrow transplant. There were only eight matches in the world, but none was close enough. Chad and his mom, Penny moved into Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for seventeen months and waited. Penny said, "I felt like I was pushed from an airplane without a parachute."
Penny's husband Don had just opened his dental practice and could only spend one night a week with Chad. Every Tuesday night Chad's room was full of magic. His dad taught him card and rope tricks - anything to take his mind off of cancer. After he mastered a few tricks, magic was all Chad could think about. Months passed and doctors feared that they would never find a match. They suggested a radical new clinical trial. The treatments were excruciating. But Chad never complained - even when he had to learn to walk and talk again because the medicine weakened his muscles.
Chad started getting stronger. But tragically, while Chad was getting better, Don started getting sick. In January of 1998, Chad finished his treatment and came home. A short time later, Don was diagnosed with malignant brain cancer. He passed away in 2000. Chad kept up with his magic. Performing helped him remember his dad. He joined the Leukemia Society and performed for children with lifelong illnesses. A full life now seemed to await this teenager.
Then Chad began to have severe headaches. His mom feared it was a relapse - but it was worse. Chad developed a hematoma on his brain. Surgery would be tough - doctors were not sure they could save the function in Chad's right arm. Chad had one request, "Please don't take away the magic." Surgery was a success and today, Chad, a.k.a. Chad-a-ka-zam, is performing magic once again. Getting back to school and performing have helped Chad adjust to his new life. He plans to go to college and is considering becoming a teacher. Chad, sharing magic with children is a great way to carry on your dad's gift.
I commend Penny and every family member here who has sacrificed and suffered - but never given up. I hope you continue to educate others about childhood cancer. And continue to fight for a cure in honor of every child lost. Your stories and strength help create awareness. And this will help advance research, treatment and hope. Penny has a sign in her home that says - cherish yesterday, dream tomorrow, live today. You inspire the world to do just that. Thank you for sharing your stories with me. May God bless you.