The Superheroes of Childhood Cancer

Alethea Mshar
Special needs mom and Blogger
09/26/16  12:22 PM PST
childhood cancer

Childhood cancer affects nearly 1 in 285 children in the U.S. Leukemia is one of the most common types. Unlike adult cancers, the causes of childhood cancers are not generally influenced by lifestyle factors. It’s important to know that it’s extremely unlikely for the development of childhood cancer to be related to anything the parent or child did.

My Childhood Cancer Superhero

Children fighting cancer are often referred to as warriors or superheroes. At times I’ve thought this unfair. It makes it sounds like they’ve been imbued with superhuman strength, when in reality their little bodies are so fragile. It has taken me awhile to come around to the notion, but I have, because there is a superpower that kids fighting cancer almost certainly do have: Resilience.

My son Benjamin, is a leukemia survivor. It’s been over six years since he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), and over three years since he finished treatment. During Ben’s treatment, there were many times that we feared we would lose him. In fact, his oncologist told us right up front that the goal of cancer treatment is to kill the cancer without killing the child, and that sometimes it’s a very fine line between the two.

During the early stages of his treatment, we balanced constantly on that fine line. There were many emergency room visits and health scares, but every single time, Ben bounced back. Then, after the first nine months, treatment eased off a bit, and Ben rallied. Again, toward the end of his treatment, which stretched over more than three years, Ben’s body fatigued. The years of treatment drained his reserves, and he wound up with antibiotic resistant infections like C. diff, and the hospitalizations became part of our routine again. His resilience was running out. This was when the superhero analogy began to resonate.

In a book or movie, a hero fights larger-than-life enemies – villains so dark, evil and horrific that even the superhuman strength of our hero wanes and victory comes into question. You know that the hero is supposed to win, but it just doesn’t seem possible after so much fighting. He’s drained to nothing. That was what the final year of Ben’s chemotherapy was like. The chemotherapy that saved his life was also sapping it, and we ran a gauntlet between giving him enough chemo to kill the cancer while sparing him. There were many times when we thought we might lose.

It was in this home stretch that his resilience became his superpower. Though he was weakened and exhausted, Ben still played, still smiled, still sang. His inner strength came out and shone a light during the darkest hours of his treatment, when weariness threatened us all. We all drew strength from his light, and made it shine brighter and stronger, by joining the play, the smile, the song.

Ben remains resilient. He lives with late effects of chemotherapy that will impact him for life, but he does so with a song in his heart and a smile on his face.

childhood cancer

Reference: American Childhood Cancer Organization, American Cancer Society

Learn more about childhood cancer:

American Cancer Society


National Cancer Institute

Childhood cancer resources and support:

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation

American Childhood Cancer Organization



The Children’s Treehouse Foundation

Click here for more helpful links and resources for children and families with special needs.

For more information, see related articles and resources for families with children with special needs here:

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