Gaylene’s comment about underfunding is an understatement. Half of the treatments in use today were approved in the mid-1980s, leaving children and their doctors to battle cancers using 35-year old tools. According to the US National Institutes of Health, none of the National Cancer Institute 2018 budget of US$5.9 billion was earmarked for juvenile cancers, though the Minnesota-based Children’s Cancer Research Fund (and others) claim the figure is just 4% of that federal funding – or US$236 million. The figures are similar in the UK and Australia (Gaylene says it’s roughly 1% in those locations) and is near zero in Hong Kong. For the record, the proposed Department of Defence budget for 2020 was US$718.3 billion.
“Children aren’t valued, so what’s left is families selling lemonade and shaving their heads,” Gaylene laments. “Because, I guess, children don’t vote.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and the legacy of Hannah’s Heroes in DB lives on. During her six-year sojourn, Gaylene also helped set up the Brownies and inspired several of her charges to shave their heads and donate their hair. “The disabled are hesitant to advocate for themselves, or make a fuss. Which is why I got into Girl Guides, because it’s an inclusive organisation,” explains Gaylene. “Disabled kids are still routinely excluded, but in a structured guide unit they have to take care of each other in their Sixes.”
“Brownies learn empathy, about working in the community and about how others are less fortunate than they are,” continues Gaylene. “I’m passionate about inspiring people to join me and do something. Anything. If it’s not cancer research find something, and make the communities we live in better.” In pandemic-stricken 2020, Hannah’s Heroes managed to raise an impressive US$80,000 during a virtual event, an all-time low, but Gaylene was happy to spread awareness, which is always the goal. “If you don’t know, you can’t help,” she states, noting that COVID has done a great deal to insert our collective health and community into the conversation. Besides, US$80,000 is nothing to sniff at.
“Every dollar is one more dollar than we had,” Gaylene says of a year when we were all worrying about jobs and security. Last year was about compassion, and it seems this one is too, if the outpouring of support for HK Dragons coach Christian Romano in his own cancer fight is any indication. The community fundraiser for Christian on August 28 saw an all-day market at DB North Pitch and a concert at Hemingway’s – plus another successful blood and bone marrow donation drive organised by Ada Wong and Tanya Inkin.
Gaylene’s autumn, meanwhile, will revolve around settling into Somerset, sorting out the house and camping with Hannah’s new Guides unit. The Meesons haven’t lived in England for 15 years, so all three will be finding their feet. One thing that’s not changing is Hannah’s schooling; she’s continuing at HKILA by remote.
“Don’t get me started on education,” huffs Gaylene, arguing any UK school Hannah enrols in would place her with 13-year-olds despite her radiation therapy impacted development. “She’d be in learning support all day and then all alone in the playground because kids generally don’t reach out to other kids who are different. Empathy… has to be taught. Social time at school is a myth if you’re disabled. I don’t want to put her through that.”
Come late September Gaylene will be buzzing off her hair, and for the first time she’ll be doing it away from the warmth of the Caymans or Hong Kong, supporting the kids without the luxury of choice in mind. “I’ll just be cold,” she finishes. “And it’s just hair.”