Cannonball Kids’ Cancer: The Fight for Freedom
September was Pediatric Cancer Awareness month, and I recently had the pleasure of talking to Melissa Wiggins, who is a co-founder of Cannonball Kids’ cancer, a non-profit organization that funds research to find better treatments for children battling cancer. This Scottish mother talked to me about her son Cannon, who survived his fight with cancer, and explained CKc’s goals and hopes for the future.
Q. What is CKc, and what is its goal?
A. CKc stands for Cannonball Kids’ cancer. The c in cancer is lowercase because we don’t believe that cancer deserves to be capitalized. It was founded because of my son, Cannon, who was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma when he was twenty months old. He went through three and a half years of treatment, and now he is considered to have no evidence of disease. As a survivor, it is a whole different world and a whole other topic of issues to talk about. CKc was funded because of the lack of funding for research in pediatric cancer. The National Cancer Institute only awards 4% of its annual budget to pediatric cancer research. Most of the funding for pediatric cancer comes from non-profits, such as Cannonball Kids’ cancer. When we looked at what areas needed funding in the pediatric cancer world, we believed that it was research. When we started doing that, we realized that in order to fund research, we had to educate people about pediatric cancer. We educate for change, and we fund an array of research that has never been done before.
Q. How was CKc started? You heard Cannon was diagnosed, but how did that evolve into this massive foundation?
A. I guess it started because I was really angry about pediatric cancer and the torture that Cannon had to endure. I knew that anything we did wouldn’t help Cannon, but at that point, I was so angry about what he endured that I just wanted to help other kids that were diagnosed. I’m a dreamer, and I dream big. I believe that we could do it. It didn’t matter about whether we could or couldn’t because I believed that we could. We decided to start in 2014 while Cannon was still in treatment.
Q. Speaking of Cannon’s treatment, I know as a mother that had to have been extremely hard. What was your reaction to his diagnosis of stage four neuroblastoma?
A. I believe that part of beating cancer comes from positive around the child that is fighting. When I first found out that he was really sick, I remember leaving the room and feeling like an elephant was sitting on my chest. I just completely lost it. I started crying, and I was so upset. I didn’t cry in front of him. My husband, Michael, came out and told me that we had a 50/50 chance, and we had to take it. We had to fight. From that moment on, I just tried to stay strong and be there for everything that Cannon needed. I had to save my tears for my pillow and get on with it. I had to be there for Cannon, and I believe that played a part in why he is here today.
Q. What do you have to say about the current level of pediatric cancer awareness?
A. I believe that in the last seven years since Cannon was diagnosed, CKc and other non-profits have shown the true reality of pediatric cancer. Before we started showing images of Cannon, I don’t remember seeing anything painful or real that was associated with pediatric cancer. I think that our foundation started that ripple effect where we showed the reality of it with really powerful images by Richard Johnson, our photographer. Now, other non-profits are starting to show the painful, real impact of pediatric cancer. I believe that it is changing. I believe that more people know that pediatric cancer isn’t cute, bald-headed kids with balloons and a celebrity. People are starting to understand what it really looks like. Our next goal in the foundation is not just showing what it is like during treatment but what it looks like after treatment. What does it look like to be a survivor? Our goal is to create more survivors but to also create a better survivorship. We have to educate what survivorship actually looks like in order to impact it. We have started on Phase Two now.
Q. What are some famous names that help with CKc?
A. We have collaborated with San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey and singer/songwriter Phillip Phillips. In my eyes, famous people are just regular people. I think that most people have this idea in their head that they are different from a regular person, but they aren’t. They don’t want to be different, and a lot of them don’t care about the celebrity status. I believe that we are creating an environment where people want to fight for change, whether they are famous or not. The idea of being a part of something is amazing. The reality is, Buster Posey is a regular guy who has values like we do and he wanted to impact change, along with his wife, Kristen. He has been able to do that, and CKc has been able to educate them about what cancer really looks like. Now, they have raised over $4 million for research. Recently, they gave us $380,000 for more research. They have impacted the pediatric cancer world on a huge scale because they felt like they could impact change. I think empowering people to be a part of something is powerful.
Q. What would you say to people who haven’t seen the true effects of cancer, or its treatment for kids?
A. If I was speaking to someone who hasn’t seen the real world of cancer, my starting line is basically that pediatric cancer is the number one killer of children by disease in the United States. Nothing kills more kids than pediatric cancer. That is always where I start. If you think about it and you are a parent, you are intrigued, and you want to know why, what is the treatment, what does it look like? It just leads to a snowball effect of people wanting to know more.
Pediatric cancer is such a deadly disease, and it decreases the quality of life of the child and his/her family. Thanks to non-profit organizations, such as Cannonball Kids’ cancer, we can fight this disease head on and hopefully find a way to eradicate it. To learn more about how to help the cause, visit https://cannonballkidscancer.org/.