A curly-haired girl with glasses talks about undergoing emergency cancer treatment while trying to watch Justin Bieber on a hospital TV. A mother, her face worn, recounts the death of her son Max, who loved Legos and The Runaway Bunny. A pediatric neurosurgeon explains how building airplane models as a boy led to his drive to save his young patients.
They are among dozens of portraits collected for the documentary project Humans of New York, which has been focusing on childhood cancer. As he posted them, photographer and blogger Brandon Stanton asked for donations for the pediatric program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
In three weeks, he’s raised nearly $4 million from more than 100,000 donors.
“It’s crazy,” said Grace West, a 12-year-old patient featured in the series.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Nina Pickett, Sloan Kettering’s pediatric administrator. “But I think it speaks to Brandon’s authenticity, his honesty, and the power of these stories to connect people.”
The project started earlier this year when Stanton contacted Memorial Sloan Kettering. He wanted to tell to a story about childhood cancer to his 2 million social media followers.
Pickett helped Stanton contact patients and their families. He began featuring their faces and their words — poignant, brave, fearful, funny — on the Humans of New York Facebook page in early May.
Sharon West had been reluctant about publicizing her daughter’s cancer. At age 10, Grace had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma. Doctors see no sign of the cancer now, but her mom said she didn’t want to talk about it on social media because she didn’t want to give the illness a sense of “permanence.” Talking to Stanton made her feel more comfortable about the project. “Our stories have to be told,” she said.
(4/6) “I want to be a pediatric surgeon. Our friend Mark is a surgeon and he told me all about it. Being a pediatric surgeon will be hard because you never want to hurt kids. You just want to cuddle them and hold them. But saving them is most important so it’s something you have to do. Also blood doesn’t bother me like it bothers my brother—and he’s sixteen! One time he got blood work done and he was so scared that he curled his toes and his hands. It doesn’t bother me though. I even had my surgeon film my surgery for me because I wanted to see his techniques. When I asked him, he was like: ‘Nobody’s ever asked that before.’ And I said: ‘Please? We can use my brother’s GoPro.’” ——————————————————–Grace’s life was saved by an experimental antibody that was funded by a group of parents who raised $2,000,000. We are currently holding our own fundraiser to help the team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in their fight against pediatric cancer. This money funds the science that saves the lives of children. There are three days left. Over 35,000 people have donated so far and we have raised over $1.3 million. It would be amazing if we could reach 50,000 donations by the end of the series. Even if it’s a small amount, please consider donating. Link in bio. Also, you can follow Gracie: @cookiescrumblers
In one story, a mother highlights her fear of the unknown: “You know that feeling you have when you’re waiting for a callback from a job interview? That’s all the time for me,” she said. “Except it’s not a job. It’s my kid’s life.”
A retiring doctor speaks of faith in the next generation: “They’re going to unzip the DNA and find the typo,” he said. “They’re going to invent targeted therapies so we don’t have to use all this radiation.”
A boy imagines time traveling and advising his before-cancer self: “(S)top fighting with your brothers and sisters. Because you’re really going to need them soon, and they are going to help you so much. And keep watching sports. Because those are really going to cheer you up.”
A third of the money raised will go to the hospital’s family support services; the rest will fund pediatric cancer research, Pickett said. Donations had topped $3.8 million by Wednesday, nearly three weeks after the project started. Many of the donations were small and came with comments, including photos of children and notes of appreciation to doctors.
“Parents comforted and encouraged each other. People educated other people about cancer,” Pickett said. “I think that people contributed because they felt like a real part of something.”
(6/7) “Whenever I saw my parents sad, it always made me a little more nervous. Like when I asked my mom how long it would be until I could eat again. And I said: ‘Ten years?’ And she shook her head and said, ‘Not that long.’ Then I said, ‘Five years?’ And she started crying. I do feel sorry for them. They are the best parents in the world and it’s very hard for them. You know, me not being quite who I used to be. I don’t have my full voice back. I haven’t done much physical activity in the last two years. They were always very proud of me. I think they’re still proud of me now but for different reasons. A lot of adults tell me that I’m more mature than a lot of eighteen year olds. Because I know that life isn’t just happy times, and now I know how to handle it.” —————————————————- You can follow our man Avi here: @_super_avi. As we learn these stories, we’re trying to raise $1,000,000 to help the team at @sloankettering in their fight against pediatric cancer. They’ve helped save Avi’s life along with thousands of other children, and we’re trying to help empower them to save even more. We’re almost at our goal. Thanks to the 20,000 people who have donated so far. If a few thousand more people donate, we’ll get there. Even if it’s a small amount, please consider being counted. Link in bio.
Stanton’s project is also bringing greater attention to one rare and nearly always fatal type of childhood cancer. DIPG, or diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, is a fast-growing tumor that attacks the brain stem. Children decline rapidly, often losing their sight, hearing, and ability to talk within months. DIPG is as rare as it is deadly, attacking around 200 children a year.
Max Glezos-Chartoff was seven when he died from DIPG in 2012. When his mothers, Irene Glezos and Julie Chartoff, met with Stanton, they held up a phone picture of their son, taken after he had been diagnosed. The photo featured a smiling boy with a wildly windblown head full of thick, dark hair. Chartoff and her partner had decided against chemotherapy.
(5/5) “I used to be a really happy person. I really was. I was the person who would walk outside and say: ‘Isn’t everything beautiful? Isn’t life wonderful? Aren’t we so lucky?’ I don’t have that sense of joy anymore. I remember the Mother’s Day before Max was diagnosed. It was four years ago. We were in this same park. On the lawn over there. It was beautiful. All three of us were there. Irene and I were in love. And Max was lying on my feet and pretending to fly in the air. And he was laughing so hard and I remember feeling so happy and full of life. It was the last moment that I truly felt joy.” ——————————————————- Today is the last day of our fundraiser to aid Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in their fight against pediatric cancer. Over 70,000 people have donated and with over $2.6 million has been raised so far. Max’s tumor is the same tumor that Dr. Souweidane is working on curing. (See previous story). In fact, Max was supposed to be part of Dr. Souweidane’s first clinical trial but he passed away too soon. I promised Julie that all money raised during the telling of Max’s story would be given to Dr. Souwedaine and his colleagues to aid in their DIPG research. The gift will be given in Max’s honor. Even if it’s a small amount, please consider donating. Link in bio.
“We were told the chemo didn’t work,” she said, “so why put your kid through that? It was more about quality of life. He went to school, played soccer, hung out with his friends.We were told our son wouldn’t live a year. So we made sure he had a beautiful year.”
Nettie Boivin of Detroit lost her five-year-old son Julian to DIPG in 2011. After his death, Boivin established Courage for Cures, a fundraising effort focused on the rare cancer. She paid close attention to the Humans of New York project.
“The entire series and difficult subject matter hit very close to home,” she said. “But the awareness and fundraising Brandon brought to pediatric cancer is absolutely phenomenal and beyond appreciated.”
(1/3) “I feel like it’s draining us. Both emotionally and physically. Her immune system is so depleted that if she gets sick, it could kill her. So I’m afraid all the time. And that fear tends to keep me on the attack. I can be short tempered with my husband and my boys. I feel like if I scream, everyone will stay away from her and she’ll be OK. My husband and I have been fighting a lot. We’ll snap at each other over little things like the chores or giving her medicine. Before the diagnosis, we were always sure to talk things out before bed. But now we’re both so stressed that we hold stuff in. He doesn’t know how I’ll react. And I don’t know how he’ll react. So we just choose not to discuss our problems. This Saturday we went on our first date since the diagnosis. It was only two hours at an Italian restaurant, but it was nice to finally talk. We acknowledged that we’ve been on edge. And we apologized to each other.”