A Class Act
Dear SBA Class of ’93,
Where do I begin to explain just how much you have impacted me through the most difficult time in my life? It has taken me over a year to find the words to express my gratitude for all of you.
For those who are not familiar with my story. My nightmare began early October 2013, when my husband, Patrick, and I learned that our 3 year old son, Aidan, was diagnosed with DIPG.
Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) is an aggressive brainstem tumor with a 0% survival rate. DIPG robs a once healthy child of their motor functions resulting in partial paralysis, losing the ability to walk, play, see, talk, and finally ending with an inability to eat and breathe; all while leaving their cognitive abilities in tack. It’s both heart-wrenching and painful as these children are fully aware of their decline often until their last day.
Aidan began radiation treatments a few days after his diagnosis. We were speechless when we learned this (radiation) was the same treatment a child would have received 40 years ago. Unfortunately, there have been no new treatments or changes in the standard of care for DIPG and many other pediatric brain tumors. Sadly, many children with brain tumors must move from one experimental protocol to another, enduring treatments with side-effects and long term impacts unacceptable with any other diagnosis.
When you’re a parent and the doctors inform you, your son will die within 2-3 months (without treatment) or in 9-12 months (with radiation treatment), all you can do is have faith and hope that God has a plan and he will give you the strength to get through this nightmare.
We decided to share Aidan’s story on social media, to raise awareness of the tragic under-funding for pediatric brain cancer research, but most important for prayers for Aidan. Once word got out on social media about Aidan and his fight, we were humbled by the outpouring of love and support from so many people.
Like most classmates, we stayed connected through facebook, we shared pictures, “liked” photos, but when I shared Aidan’s story, the way you rallied behind me was more than I ever imagined.
Many of you I had not seen since walking the halls of SBA and yet you were supporting us at local fundraisers, sending us meals, gas cards, and monetary donations; all to assist in Aidan’s fight & experimental treatments.
Our brave superhero, Aidan, earned his wings only 10 months after being diagnosed, on August 14, 2014, he was only 4 years old. Once again, friends from my high school years came to be by my side during my darkest hour – Aidan’s funeral. You sat with me, we shed tears together, and we reminisced on our SBA days, laughing and trying to lighten the mood.
I was so touched when I saw you embrace my parents, remembering them from our teen years, realizing my mom and dad’s grief was two-fold, as they grieved for their daughter’s loss and the loss of their youngest grandson.
A couple weeks after Aidan’s death, I began to receive cards, but not just any cards – these were special. Cards from the “SBA class of ‘93”. Every couple days I would receive a new card in the mail, each one beautifully unique. Some were signed with a name and personal message and some shared a memory of our simpler years. Other cards were signed “on behalf of the class of ‘93”, but each and everyone were signed with love from the heart.
It didn’t stop there! You sent “thinking of you” cards over the course of the next year. Cards with acknowledgement during our 1st Christmas without Aidan, cards for his 5th birthday (in heaven), and even on the 1st anniversary of Aidan’s death. They gave me strength, made me laugh, made me cry, and made me believe in brighter days ahead. The one thing they all had in common—they made me feel loved, supported, and not alone.
When I thought there was nothing else you could do, you gave us a gift that will last forever—a star named after Aidan.
You are not just my classmates of 1993, you are my sisters (my SBA Sisters Forever). You are everything the heart of SBA represents. You are amazing women and will always hold a special place in my heart. I will never forget the genuine love you showed my family.
Some of you continue to come out and support our Aidan’s Avengers events, and it means more than you will ever know – THANK YOU!
If you take anything away from this letter, it’s this…
There is a saying that I’ve heard shared: “The day before my child was diagnosed with cancer, I was not a cancer parent either.” I cannot tell you how poignant this is to me. I was sympathetic to the concept of childhood cancer, but I had not really internalized what it meant, how families were impacted, the depth of the pain it inflicts. NO family should have to endure it.
Our family went to bed the night before Aidan was diagnosed unaware that “everyday 46 children are diagnosed with cancer and 7 children will die from cancer”. We didn’t know ONLY 4 percent of the federal budget for cancer research goes to the children fighting all types of cancer.
We were one of those families who thought “it will never happen to us.” Help us make an impact, raise awareness, and fight for those kids and families who have been forced to join a “club” no one wants to be part of.
Thank you for continuing to honor Aidan and the thousands of children with pediatric brain cancer, who bravely fight a battle that is more often than not, bigger than they are.
THANK YOU SBA SISTERS!
Tara O’Neill Dunion
Class of 1993
Aidan’s Avengers – Hope for a Cure
A few months following Aidan’s death, we formed Aidan’s Avengers, a non-profit, section 501(c)(3) organization. Aidan’s Avengers commits to be instrumental in helping to find a cure for DIPG and other childhood brain cancers.
Funds for research are largely targeted at adult forms of the cancer. Certainly breakthroughs in adult cancer research will help, but because DIPG is a childhood disease, it requires specific and targeted research to find the cure that will work.
We keep ourselves busy by organizing fundraisers and bringing more awareness to the need for more research. We are quickly approaching our 2nd Annual Aidan’s Avengers Golf Tournament & Gold Banquet which will be on Friday, May 27th. Last year, we raised over $11,000 and we are hoping to double that this year. You can learn more about the event AidansAvengers.org/golf
“When it comes to DIPG, they call it a ‘home run strategy,’ because it is such a complex cancer that finding treatment options for DIPG will help a number of other cancers.”
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