Families hope childhood cancer gets more attention with special state license plate

By Wendy Leonard , Deseret News Read Original Article
Published: Sunday, Aug. 9 2015 12:33 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — It's been a decade since Christian Hansen passed away at 4 years old.

"We talk about him. We laugh. We cry. We share memories," said Krystal Hansen, Christian's mother. "It's rough, but we also remember the good times."

Research hasn't come a long way since then, and it is unknown how long Christian would have lived had he been diagnosed with cancer today. At the time, when he relapsed and cancer spread through his body, Hansen said doctors "threw up their hands" because they didn't have the research backing new or alternative treatments.

"They had done all they could do," she said.

Hansen, of South Jordan, and a number of friends and families of cancer victims are behind a new petition to get the state to approve a license plate specifically focused on childhood cancer. Proceeds and annual fees would potentially go directly to Primary Children's Hospital for treatment and research purposes.

"Some people might think it is insignificant, but we drive everywhere," Hansen said. "If we can get people to look at these license plates, we'll raise awareness and divert attention to the disease and that will hopefully turn into donations.

"More awareness equals more funding, which equals more research, which equals more cures and longer-living, happy children," she said.

Childhood cancers, which number about a dozen main types, are the No. 1 death by disease of children in the United States.

Forty-three children are diagnosed each day, with the average age of diagnosis around 6 years old, according to the Coalition Against Childhood Cancer, a national advocacy group. It also reports that 1 in 5 kids with cancer succumbs to the disease, and many more are riddled with lifelong challenges and potential complications from the harsh cancer treatments that are available to children.

And many of those treatments haven't changed in decades.

Childhood cancer research received about 4 percent of the National Cancer Institute's 2014 federal budget of $4.9 billion, paling in comparison to what is spent studying the adult versions of the disease, which consequently plague more people.

"I know what it is like to lose a kid, and I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy," Hansen said, recalling the experience she had with her son. "The research isn't there. The cures aren't coming fast enough for these poor kids."

And the prevalence of childhood cancer is increasing, up 24 percent in the past 40 years, according to CURE, an organization that funds targeted therapies for children. Fortunately, though, survival rates have also increased over the years.

Eight other states already have special group license plates specifically raising awareness for childhood cancer. Utah is one of 12 others in the process of creating one, and the petition is the first step toward getting it.

A new special group license plate in Utah requires at least 500 signatures from people intending to purchase the plate once it is produced, a collection of money, allocation from the Legislature or donations to begin manufacturing the new plate, agency sponsorship and ultimately approval by the Utah Legislature.

Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, introduced a plan for the new special interest plate to the 2015 Legislature in February, and said, "there is always need for more financial resources for cancer research." He plans to formally present the idea to the Legislature again in the coming year.

But with more than 500 signatures already collected on the petition, available at www.thepetitionsite.com since mid-July, Hansen said support for the plate is evident.

Many of the signatures contain information about the petitioner's intention to honor a loved one, including sentiments from Sherri Gibson, grandmother of 5-year-old JP Gibson, who played one day with the Utah Jazz last year after he successfully completed chemotherapy treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

"You aren't aware until it hits home, and when it does, you find out just how many other children are going through their courageous fight against cancer, along with their loving families," Gibson wrote. "Special thanks to everyone who continually support and help these young children to live a life where they can laugh, play and enjoy a day filled with hope and happiness."

The final cost of the plate will be determined by the Legislature, but Hansen said a $25 annual contribution will go directly to childhood cancer research. Those who purchase the new plates can change their obligation and get regular plates at any time, according to Charlie Roberts, spokesman for the Utah State Tax Commission which oversees the Division of Motor Vehicles.

If approved, the plate will join nearly 50 others available in Utah, including dozens that emphasize various causes from autism to wildlife preservation, and support for U.S. veterans and pet adoption. Colleges and universities in the state also use special plates to collect donations.

Hansen said she promised her young son that she'd continue to push for a cure for cancer as long as she lives, saying that he would never be forgotten. And Christian's memory has lived on in the lives of his seven siblings, as each holds onto something that belonged to him.

"He's always our last thought before we go to bed and the first thought we have in the morning," Hansen said, adding that the experience of losing a son has changed her forever.

"We never took anything with him for granted, and we still don't because of what we've been through," she said. "We say, 'I love you' every day, and I tell my kids that our house is their safe place to come for whatever they need. I want them to always feel that way."