It was the littlest box I’d ever seen resting on a bier placed before an altar at the front of a church.
It looked more like a bin than a casket.
Klaire Benge was little, though she lived large in her seven years and two weeks. Large enough to pack Maylo United Methodist in Gastonia a few days ago.
The church was filled with family and friends, the Ranlo firefighters and police officers who championed her, and others whose hearts she had touched from a distance or whose hand she had held for a time. Klaire had a way of grabbing you.
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The Beast had won again. Childhood cancer. This time it was Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), a particularly evil pediatric brain tumor, as though any pediatric brain tumor or cancer could be anything other than evil.
I’d seen DIPG kill before. An eight-year-old, butterfly-loving, brunette beauty from Weddington named Grace McGrath.
Through Grace and her family, I learned DIPG has a five-year survival rate of less than one percent. It is, quite simply, a death sentence, usually carried out in about a year. In a nation that has outlawed cruel and unusual punishment there persists this depraved monster, slowly squeezing the dignity and life out of children in a manner mimicking the way Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS, wrings the dignity and life out of adults.
Though singularly horrific, DIPG is only one of the cancers that kill a September 11th of kids every 18 months.
In the nearly 16 1/2 years since that Tuesday in 2001, 127 Americans have been killed by terrorists on U.S. soil, according to U.S. government and media reports. Over that same time, approximately 30,000 American kids have been killed by cancer.
If mysterious, menacing men from the Middle East were murdering 2,000 American kids a year, how would we react? What would be our response?
We respond reflexively to the remote possibility of terrorist attacks because terrorist attacks trigger Twitter. Because terrorist attacks splash alerts onto TV screens. And because there’s a whole lot of power in the politicking over terrorist attacks.
We’ve become conditioned to believe terrorists could strike any one of us and our families anywhere, any time. We live in fear. As a result we do, and spend, whatever we’re told we must in pursuit of protection.
Our psyches also tend to believe cancer only strikes other kids. Until...
Klaire Benge’s family knows cancer doesn’t only strike other kids. So does the family of Grace McGrath, and far too many others. Like the Catawba, S.C., family of Harlan Sullins, a beautiful four-year old boy also killed by a brain tumor. It was Harlan’s family who started calling his cancer The Beast.
I’m a believer, but I don’t go for the sweet “Wings” talk often used to soothe when children like Klaire and Grace and Harlan are lost. To me, The Beast just won again. Another innocent life horribly taken. Another family crushed.
When will we say, “Enough”? When will we respond to childhood cancer with a determined, deafening, “Never Again” as though it were a terrorist threat?
Because it is.
Observer contributor Keith Larson can be heard weekdays at noon on AM 730 Radio Charlotte and TheLarsonPage.com