Dozens of people gathered at Calgary’s St. Patrick’s Island on Sunday for Curefest, an event dedicated to the memory of 12-year-old Natasha Gould who died from cancer in 2016.
It’s the second time the event, that is designed to raise awareness of childhood cancers, was held in Calgary.
One of the speakers at the event was Catherine Busshoff. Her 10-year-old son Alex passed away in 2014 only ten months after being diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer. Both her mother and grandmother died from the disease as well.
“You think you know too because if you’ve had other family members that have had cancer but it’s a whole different ballgame when it’s your kid,” Busshoff said. “We thought maybe he has a twisted bowel or appendicitis and we were freaking out about that. Cancer wasn’t even on our radar.”
In her speech, Busshoff talked about the “shady characters who prey on desperate parents with their miracle cures.”
Busshoff doesn’t want others to go through what her family did. She says they were inundated with dubious information claiming to have a cure for her son.
“That was very hard to navigate. It took a lot of stamina and wisdom to wade through those waters,” Busshoff said.
University of Calgary oncology professor, Dr. Aru Narendran, said there is a lot of pressure on parents to look at different treatments because they always worry about “what if”.
Dr. Narendran spoke at the Curefest event and said he would never tell a parent not to seek additional information but says the medical community needs to work harder to help parents differentiate fact from fiction.
“I think that is something we need to do better. To be able to communicate with the patient and be there for them and to make them feel comfortable coming to us and asking these questions,” Dr. Narendran said.
Busshoff feels terrible for families who have spent their life savings and had their hopes crushed by turning to alternative treatments.
“It makes me very angry because that is a huge injustice,” Busshoff said.
Busshoff said she hopes by bringing this uncomfortable issue into the open parents will be better equipped for what may lie ahead.
“I think the more people talk about the truth of what cancer is, the truth of how it does affect kids and their families, the less opportunity there is for people with their snake-oil salesmen, these websites that are the next cure – to take advantage,” Busshoff said. “I think that’s why it’s so important that we continue to bring information to the table. That’s the only way you can fight these things. When people are ignorant to what’s going on, that makes them more vulnerable to things that are not true.”
Dr Narendran said every year between 1,500 to 2,000 children are diagnosed with cancer in Canada and 85 to 90 per cent of those children are cured.