‘It’s not rare. It does happen.’: Face of Cornwall childhood cancer awareness aims to change public disbelief

Alex Tourangeau, Mayor Bernadette Clement and Cheryl Tourangeau hold the childhood cancer awareness flag outside Cornwall city hall on Pitt Street on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. Cheryl Tourangeau says the biggest challenge is changing public perceptions that kids don't get cancer. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in the City of Cornwall. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – Even with Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September, the face of the local campaign says people “still don’t realize that kids get cancer.”

Cheryl Tourangeau, whose 16-year-old son Alex went through a leukemia battle, said funding for research into kid’s cancers is also lacking.

“Less that four per cent of funding going into research for childhood cancer. Kids do get cancer…we need to raise awareness and raise some funds for our kids,” she said.

The Tourangeaus were among a small group who gathered outside city hall Thursday afternoon for a childhood cancer flag raising ahead of next month’s campaign.

Tourangeau said the “huge impact on society” is losing children to cancer at two or six years old versus an adult diagnosed with cancer at 45 or 50. “You’re losing 70 productive years.” She said about 4,500 kids a year in Canada are given a cancer diagnosis.

“The hard part is, it’s a door you can never close because you never say a child is cured,” she said, noting that about two-thirds of youngsters who make it through treatment end up having problems later in life, namely secondary bouts of cancer.

Alex Tourangeau said they will be painting rocks gold for CHEO which will be put in the gardens in front of city hall and other locations, based on a similar campaign in England. “We ask that you take a picture and hashtag #CHEORocks and then hide it somewhere else that somebody else can find it,” Alex said.

Asked about misconceptions about being a kid with cancer, Alex says a lot of people think it’s contagious. “A lot of people kinda stayed away because they thought, oh, because he has it, I’m going to get it. And people oftentimes don’t know what to say.”

This is the fifth year for the Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and Cheryl Tourangeau was asked about the progress.

“Every year gets better. What’s hard is a lot people want to turn a blind eye to it and pretend it doesn’t exist because if it doesn’t exist then their kid is safe. Unfortunately, that’s not reality. There are kids diagnosed in this community every year and there are kids that we lose in this community every year.”