Late Brooklynite’s cancer fight is not over

The Brooklyn Paper
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Cancer robbed Patty Cavallo of her brave daughter Sienna last summer, but the disease has only strengthened the South Park Slope mom’s resolve to battle for a cure.

On June 22-23, Cavallo will join more than 400 families affected by childhood cancer, travelling en masse to Capitol Hill to urge congressional representatives to fully fund legislation that will continue to fund childhood cancer research.

“People don’t want to hear about childhood cancer because it makes them sad. But children are dying from it, whether it makes us sad or not,” Cavallo said. “My main reason to go is to speak to Congress and let them know that childhood cancer is the leading cause of death in children, and we need funding.”

The event, titled Reach the Day, is sponsored by CureSearch National Childhood Cancer Foundation, which supports the work of the Children’s Oncology Group, the world’s largest cooperative cancer research organization.

Reach the Day activities consist of visits to members of Congress, addresses from congressional leaders, and an outdoor rally — all designed to spur momentum to a cause that for many, is a desperate one.

“Sienna never made it to 10 years old — that’s nobody’s fault other than the fact that doctors don’t have the tools to make this 100 percent curable,” her mother said.

Forty years ago, childhood cancer cure rates were less than 10 percent; today 78 percent overall are said to be cured, according to CureSearch. Despite the progress, about one in five children continues to die, and cancer remains the leading cause of childhood death from disease, according to CureSearch.

Before she died on August 8, 2008, Sienna, a student at The Children’s School in Park Slope, endured 12 surgeries, and an amputated leg. Through it all, the youthful glint in her eyes never diminished: Never once did she stop believing she would one day be cured, her mother said.

“She tried everything, and gave it 100 percent, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough,” Cavallo said.

Last year, Congress unanimously passed the Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Act, authorizing $150 million — $30 million each year — to expand pediatric cancer research, awareness, and the creation of a national childhood cancer research registry.

But with a bleak economic situation and growing federal deficit, advocates say, everything including childhood cancer funding is in danger of being cut, according to CureSearch.

“Each day that pediatric cancer research goes under-funded, the road to discovering new treatments and cures become longer, and more children die,” said Dr. Gregory Reaman, chairman of the Children’s Oncology Group. “Only research cures childhood cancer. With proper funding levels — we can conquer childhood cancer.”

To ensure continued House and Senate support for childhood cancer research funding, Congress has formed the first Pediatric Cancer Caucus — members of Congress dedicated to conquering childhood cancer. Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak is expected to announce the creation of the caucus on Tuesday, June 23 during the rally.

“Each year, more than 12,500 children are diagnosed with cancer and more than 2,000 of these young lives are unnecessarily lost,” Sestak said in a statement. “I retired from the U.S. Navy when my own daughter was diagnosed with a pediatric brain tumor. As I lived in a pediatric oncology ward, I became particularly aware of the promise that cancer research could offer for so many in this country, by allowing more patients to survive and improving their quality of life.”

Sienna never missed an opportunity to draw attention to her cause, her mother said. On New Year’s Day 2008, she was among the intrepid to kick off the Coney Island Polar Bear Club’s annual plunge into the Atlantic Ocean, an event that raised money for a camp for seriously ill children. The cold air and icy water didn’t deter Sienna, who gamely dipped a toe in the water and shrieked like any child would. “Sienna wanted people to know she had cancer, and what it meant,” Cavallo said.

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Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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