As a grandfather of eleven grandchildren, I cannot imagine a worse day than to be told one of them has cancer or some other catastrophic disease. In my opinion that’s the place whale dung sits on in the totem pole of life.. We have a grandchild mysteriously losing her hearing, which pales in comparison to cancer, but even that nearly drives me to tears. 

I acknowledge life is precious to everyone, and that cancer is a bastard, but I would think most adults would willingly take their child’s disease if they only could. I bet the good Lord hears that prayer hourly. Disease may be a fact of life for “thinning the herd”, but children shouldn’t have to be subject to it. 

For that reason, my charity of choice is always the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It costs them $1.7 million daily to operate that facility. Marlo Thomas and her colleagues do such a Herculean job of raising money and hammering the message home of what that wonderful organization is doing. And the fact that families never receive a bill from St. Jude for anything so they can help their child survive is incredible. That last sentence, “so they can help their child survive” is profound. 

St. Jude is the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes. Jude was one of the Twelve Apostles for Jesus and is also referred to as Thaddeus. There is even a belief by some that Jude is the brother of Jesus. It was only right to attach this Saint to the hospital. 

The nonprofit St. Jude is located in Memphis Tennessee. It was founded by the late entertainer Danny Thomas in 1962 on the premise that no child should die in the dawn of life. Thomas claimed he was struggling to make a living when he put $7 in the offering plate at a mass in Detroit. He prayed to St. Jude for means to provide for his family and promised he would build him a shrine. The next week he got a good-paying job which eventually would make him wealthy and famous. He kept his promise by building the hospital. 

In 2007 Chili’s restaurant chain pledged $50 million to fund the construction of the seven-story Chili’s Care Center.  They added 340,000 sq. ft. for radiological services and the Brain Tumor Consortium. It also allowed for two floors of outpatient clinics, one floor for inpatient services, two floors of laboratory space, an office floor and one unfinished level for future expansion. In 2014 they were able to open the Marlo Thomas Center that would become the graduate school for biomedical research. There are plans for a research facility to be built in Memphis as well. 

Donald Pinkel was the first director of St. Jude. He was perhaps the driving force behind getting the hospital up and running, including ensuring the hospital would accept all children, regardless of color. Five directors have followed, including current director James Downing. 

St. Jude has several affiliated hospitals and hematology clinics. They are located in Louisiana, North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, and even Beirut Lebanon. Mr. Thomas’s parents were from Lebanon. 

It is estimated that 400,000 children around the world develop cancer each year! Worse, only half are diagnosed. It is the leading cause of death past infancy for US children. Although survival rates vary by the type of cancer, better therapies have led to a survival rate of 80%. It is believed there are 483,000 US children that have beaten the bastard disease. By the way, their website claims that six forms of cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and that vaccinating children between 9 and 12 prevents cancer in 90% of children. 

Folks, there are a lot of great children’s hospitals in this country. I was astonished when I stopped counting just at fifty. Surprisingly, in a recent US News ranking, St. Jude ranked fifth. I would have thought it would have been first, an honor held by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. 

Regardless, as we enter the New Year here’s to hoping none of us will ever have to use these facilities and prayers for those knowing this experience all too well. Surely there is a special place in heaven for those kids and their parents – in the meantime, St. Jude helps fill that role.