VOICES: Health disparities heightened in childhood cancer patients

In the United States, more than 17,000 children are diagnosed with cancer annually. Yet, despite this number of cases, pediatric cancer research is significantly underfunded with only 4% of federal funds allotted to the research and development of treatments and cures in children. This is why programs like Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation’s Pediatric Oncology Student Training (POST) Program are crucial in the fight against childhood cancer.

This summer, I had the opportunity to take part in this program, thanks to a generous grant from the Northwestern Mutual Foundation, and contribute to the search for these cures.

The POST Program’s goal is to increase exposure to the field of pediatric oncology while helping students pursuing the medical field develop practical research skills. During the program, I conducted research in the Center of Behavioral Health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital with my mentor, Dr. Cynthia Gerhardt. Our research consisted of examining outcomes among families of children with advanced cancer, which will help the hospital develop new methods to improve the care of families who have a child that was diagnosed with an advanced cancer prognosis.

As a biology major in my final year at the University of Dayton, my goal is to take a gap year and acquire more advanced experience as I prepare for my future steps to medical school. I know the incredible skills and knowledge I learned through the POST Program will help to further my career as a physician. I’m especially passionate about pediatrics because of my own experiences with healthcare as a child. When I was young, being raised by a single mother, going to the doctor was luxury. As I got older, I realized my experience highlighted the health disparities that exist for so many others across the country. Through the POST Program, I now see how these health disparities can be even more heightened in the field of pediatric oncology, for children and families who don’t have the access and resources for quality, affordable healthcare. I’m dedicated to pursuing my career as a physician and providing the best healthcare for all children.

As September marks Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, I encourage everyone to learn more about how they can support childhood cancer patients and their families in their communities. I’m proud to count myself among the next generation of young researchers making a difference in the lives of these children, and I’m hopeful for the breakthroughs made possible by partners like Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and Northwestern Mutual Foundation.

Myanah Keys is a University of Dayton student and recipient of an Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation’s 2022 Pediatric Oncology Student Training (POST) Program grant.

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