Janice Dean: Kids with cancer are real-life superheroes

A few weeks ago, my 10-year-old son came home from school and told me he wanted to participate in an event in which he would shave his head to raise money and awareness for kids with cancer.

I was a bit surprised about the head shaving, but not about him wanting to help others. I realize I’m biased, but my son Matthew is one of the kindest, most considerate human beings I know. He and his brother have something I believe you can’t learn. They have the gift of empathy.

When we watch movies or read books whose main character struggles with something that makes them different from the rest, I can tell Matthew and Theodore take these particular stories to heart. They will ask questions about why people are sometimes treated differently because of the way they look. I tell them you never know what someone might be going through, so it’s just good to be kind to everyone. Sometimes there are kids in real life who have big challenges, and they’re the bravest people you’ll ever meet.

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So when I asked Matthew why he wanted to take part in the event, he said it was because he felt so bad for the kids who lost their hair because of the medicine they had to take. It wasn’t their fault they looked different. He told me he learned about the St. Baldrick's Foundation in class, the group that promotes the event, and he raised his hand right away to take part.

We started reading up on the charity and found out this year marks St. Baldrick’s 20th anniversary. What started out as a challenge between successful businessmen who wanted to give back in 1999 turned into an incredible fundraiser with events all over the world.

Firefighters, police officers and military troops have been a big part of St. Baldrick’s from the very beginning. Thousands have added head-shaving to their public service, with events in police and fire stations across the U.S., and even military bases in Iraq and Germany.

And because of the research supported by St. Baldrick’s, the FDA has approved a new drug that drastically increases the cure rate for high-risk neuroblastoma patients. It’s only the third drug approved in 20 years made specifically for kids with cancer.

These kids are real life superheroes. They deserve prayers, love and our help to find a cure as soon as possible.

Even though there have been big strides and millions of dollars raised, the statistics are still heartbreaking. More children are lost to cancer in the U.S. than any other disease — more than many other childhood diseases combined.

Worldwide, a child is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes. That’s about the time it takes to shave a head, so my boy Matthew will be honoring those who have lost their hair by losing his too, for the team he named "MattsMajors."

On Saturday there will be a big parade and celebration before the razors begin buzzing. My younger son Theodore said he wouldn’t do it this time (he’s a little afraid of the electric razors), but if it went OK for Matthew this year, he would join him next year.

If you’d like to learn more about St. Baldrick's and the amazing work they do for childhood cancer, you can visit their website.

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These kids are real-life superheroes. They deserve prayers, love and our help to find a cure as soon as possible.

Oh, and I’ll be the one cheering loudly in the crowd, smiling through the tears when I see my bald boy helping others. I'm the proud mom of a son whose empathy for others makes the world a better place.

Janice Dean's latest book, "Mostly Sunny: How I Learned to Keep Smiling Through the Rainiest Days" is available now.