For a list of Project 3.8’s photo exhibitions and a list of easy ways to help families who have a child with cancer, see the end of this article. 

By Susan Gale

It was the photo heard ‘round the world. Dorian Murray with boxing gloves up to his cheeks, staring at the camera. The little boy with cancer wanted to be “famous in China” and raise awareness about childhood cancer. He got his wish as #D-Strong became a catchphrase throughout social media, reaching thousands of people from all walks of life.

Gavin Stanton, 4, of West Greenwich
Gavin Stanton, 4, of West Greenwich

Now, Robyn Ivy, the professional photographer behind that iconic photo, wants to build on Dorian’s legacy in order to help other Rhode Island families struggling to support a child with cancer. Dorian, of Westerly, was 8 years old when he passed away in March 2016.

“Dorian was representative as one of many children still right here,” Ivy said. “I think we can become a role model for the country in how to rally as a state and lift these families while in treatment.”

Nationally, about 15,000 kids are diagnosed with cancer annually,
with the average age of six years old at diagnosis. Cancer cuts across all ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic groups. Each year about 150 Rhode
Island families have children in active treatment for cancer, said Ivy, who is a friend of Dorian’s mother Melissa.

Ivy and Dorian’s mother collaborated to created Project 3.8, a series of 20 photos of Rhode Island children, ages 2 to 18, who are either fighting cancer or are in remission. Project 3.8 got its name because only about 3.8% of all U.S. cancer research funding is dedicated to childhood cancers. As a result, there have been very few new pediatric cancer medicines developed in the last 20 years.

Coinciding with National Childhood Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month, an exhibit of Project 3.8 photos will travel the state starting in September. All proceeds will go to the Dorian J. Murray Foundation, which works to increase support for pediatric cancer initiatives and supports local groups such as The Tomorrow Fund. The fund is a Rhode Island-based non-profit which provides daily financial and emotional support to families seeking treatment in The Tomorrow Fund Clinic at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

Amaya Devine, 7, of Johnston
Amaya Devine, 7, of Johnston

“Like your life is a burning building”

Ivy said that RI’s children with cancer are largely invisible, often because others don’t want to be reminded that something like cancer could happen to their own children. As one mother put it to Ivy, people often “run out of your life like your life is a burning building” when they learn of a child’s cancer.

For some cancers, children must spend years in treatment. The initial help of friends and family can dwindle over time and even turn into resentment as the family cannot make social engagements due to the uncertain nature of their child’s health, she said.

Most families must go down to one income during treatment so a parent can be with the child, and siblings can feel like they’ve lost that parent to the disease. The financial and emotional burdens on families are devastating.

In the Project 3.8 exhibit, Ivy shows the variety of faces of cancer – some children do not look sick. Others have more obvious medical issues. Dorian will be the only “angel” in the exhibit, Ivy said.

“The fight looks different based on the personality of the kid,” she said. “They are so full of life even though they are sick. Their whole life is an act of surrender. They are at the mercy of that disease and the side effects of treatment.”

Using #D-Strong as a model

Ivy feels that the #D-Strong movement was a good start, but now it’s time to do more. “We talked about [Dorian] wanting to be famous but not about his cancer,” she said. “It’s easier to talk about why he wanted to be famous. Let’s take the #D-Strong framework as a model. Let’s change how we go about the cause, change how we support these families.”

#D-Strong was about people feeling part of something bigger than themselves. Ivy hopes to spark a revolution in caring for Rhode Island families facing childhood cancer – one where people won’t look away in fear or be afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. A revolution that will stay consistent over the long term for each family.

“You can hold a sign,” Ivy said, referring to the social media photos of people holding signs saying #D-Strong. “But what about mowing a lawn, giving gas cards, movie tickets, or gift certificates to restaurants? What about businesses offering services?

“We forget in this digital and technology age how good it feels to do something kind for someone else,” she said. “It felt so good to hold up a sign, imagine how it will feel to actually help someone.”

And there is reason for optimism. In the 1950s, almost all children with cancer died. Today, despite the small amount spent on childhood cancer research, survival rates have risen to 90% for the most common kinds of pediatric cancers.

“The percent of hope is way higher than the percent of fear,” Ivy said. “It’s one person at a time doing whatever small thing they can.”

Susan Gale is founder and publisher of Rhode Island Parent Magazine.

 

See Project 3.8’s photo exhibition

All ages are welcome at these receptions; suggested donation of $10. Proceeds will benefit the Dorian J. Murray Foundation. Visit www.3point8.org/attend-the-show for more details.

September 3: 6–9 pm, The Ocean House, 1 Bluff Avenue, Watch Hill.

September 10: 6–9 pm, Candita Clayton Gallery, Hope Artiste Village, 999 Main Street, Unit #105, Pawtucket. (Exhibit continues until September 18.)

September 22: 5–8 pm, RI State Police Headquarters, 311 Danielson Pike, North Scituate.

October 1: 7–11:30 pm, The Izzy Foundation’s 5th Annual Izzy Gala, Biltmore Hotel, 11 Dorrance Street, Providence. Visit www.theizzyfoundation.org/events to purchase tickets.

October 3: 5–8 pm, State House, 82 Smith Street, Providence. (Exhibit continues until October 7.)

October 15: 6–9 pm, Blazing Editions, 42 Ladd St #107, East Greenwich. (Exhibit continues until October 21.)

October 23: Noon–5 pm, Newport Vineyards, 909 East Main Road (Route 138), Middletown.

October 29: 6–9 pm, Jamestown Art Center, 18 Valley Street, Jamestown.

 

Here are tangible, meaningful actions you can take to help the family of a child with cancer:

  • Walk the family’s dog
  • Mow the lawn
  • Gift mom a massage
  • Take siblings to the park
  • Buy the family movie passes
  • Take over carpool duties for a week
  • Do the laundry or dry cleaning
  • Get friends together to clean the house
  • Get the car washed
  • Hire a housekeeper once ortwice a month
  • Donate gas cards
  • Host a gift card drive
  • Donate restaurant or pizza gift certificates
  • Hire a handyman for odd jobs around their house
  • Buy gift certificates for online and local grocery stores
  • Give iTunes gift cards for apps and music while in the hospital
  • Prepare meals
  • Educate yourself about cancer
  • Treat them like normal people
  • Donate to the Tomorrow Fund

 

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