In an effort to remember and honor those affected by cancer, buildings along the Dallas and Fort Worth skylines will glow yellow on Saturday night.
The initiative is part of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s “Lights of Hope” celebration, according to ACS Executive Vice President Jeff Fehlis.
“It will just bring attention to all of the great work our advocacy teams do, not only at the federal level but here in Texas and in every other state, fighting for cancer patients who really, really still need help. They need access,” Fehlis said.
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Typically, the “Lights of Hope” event is held in Washington, D.C., where more than 30,000 luminating bags are lined up along the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Due to the pandemic, Fehlis said they wanted to bring that sense of hope to people’s homes through a virtual event and the yellow lighting upon buildings.
The fight against cancer is one that Adriana Nixon of Fort Worth and her family understand all too well. Nixon was diagnosed with stage four hepatocellular carcinoma, a rare form of liver cancer, in July 2019.
She received a liver transplant in late February on her seventh birthday and has been in remission for six months, according to her mother Andrea Pederson.
“She had scans in June and again in August and she’ll have them for every three months for up to a year and then they’ll continue to monitor, but you’re considered in remission for the first five years,” Pederson said.
The quest to raise awareness for childhood cancer has been championed by Pederson and her family ever since Adriana’s diagnosis. The Facebook page “Adriana Strong” was created one year ago this week and has more than 5,000 followers.
Pederson said the page was created as a way to easily keep family and friends updated on her daughter’s progress, but it has also connected them to families affected by cancer.
September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. According to the National Foundation for Cancer Research, childhood cancer remains the leading cause of death for children under 15 years old.
“Awareness is key to research, support, and just better treatment. Now that they’re doing it this year, is just something parents have been fighting for, for a long time,” Pederson said, referring to the buildings. “I’ve always told people that support builds strength. This is one of the ways. The support really does build strength. I think it’s made her stronger, her fight stronger.”
For the past six months under the pandemic, Pederson said their family has remained mostly isolated as recommended, given Adriana’s recent transplant. Appointments have been restricted to one parent accompanying at a time, she said.
Fehlis said the challenges of the pandemic are felt by many cancer patients, who are not only considered high-risk, but they may have also had trouble with access.
“We’ve had challenges for people getting into screenings, which is critical because those delays could have a significant impact on their cancer journey,” he said. "If you think about it, some diagnosis may be missed because there was no screening or it was delayed.”
Another challenge the American Cancer Society has come across is funding, he said. A large portion of the funds they raise every year is through gatherings such as Relay For Life platforms and galas, which have gone virtual.
“We are at risk of not being able to fund our fall cycle of research grants and that could have a significant impact because we fund a lot of young, early investigators where they can’t get any other funding,” he said. “This is where breakthrough technology comes from. This is where breakthrough treatment in medicine comes from. It’s so critical that we get that funding each year to keep that progress going. If we pause even for just a portion of a year, it could set us back significantly in terms of research.”
Despite the rippling effects of COVID-19, Fehlis said he hopes the glowing lights Saturday bring some sense of solidarity and hope. For him personally, Saturday marked 22 years since he lost his mother, Shirley, to breast cancer.
“I hope it means something to everyone, because it really will to those that are in this struggle, those of us who lost folks,” he said. “The hope is we continue this fight, we make progress every year and less people get affected by cancer and more families stay together.”