“Embryonic Stem Cells … Can’t Treat Cancer”

By Rai Rojas

Rai Rojas

Rai Rojas

Friday last was a cold and cloudy day in DC, but like many pro-lifers in the city that morning I was excited about participating in the March for Life later that afternoon.  A coworker, a friend really, a brother and I were standing in the alley behind our office building sipping coffee when his wife called.  It’s a call no parent should ever get – his four-year-old son had been diagnosed with Leukemia.  We ran inside, hastily grabbed our coats and keys and headed to a hospital in Northern Virginia.

Pediatric Oncology are two words that should never follow each other in a sentence or be seen on a sign, but tragically they are.  The bright uniforms worn by doctors and nurses, the colorful murals painted on the walls, the Disney characters painted on masks and IVs may be a comfort to the children, but for the parents there is no disguising the harsh reality of where they are.

There is heartbreak around every corner.  You walk down hallways purposely staring down at the shiny over-polished putty colored floors so as to not be continuously slapped in the face with the worst kind of reality:  Children get sick, they get very, very sick.

I spent three days at the hospital, listening, watching and offering my dear friends what little comfort I could.  I learned that in spite of the awfulness of the situation children are resilient and that God offers a special grace to parents much more so than to the casual visitor.  The gravity of their circumstance turns these parents into super heroes – I know, I watched it happen.

These mothers and fathers become encyclopedias of pediatric cancer, picking up a vernacular all of us pray never to have to learn.  As I listened to conversations between them I’d look up to see if it was a nurse or a doctor speaking and it usually turned out to be a Mom discussing her daughter’s condition with another parent.  They trade stories filled with words mere mortals have to turn to an encyclopedia to understand and it’s one of those exchanges that I’m sharing with you today.

On Sunday afternoon my friend and his wife were in their son’s room getting very good news, their little boy was responding to treatment with miraculous speed and his prognosis isn’t just good it’s great.  It will be a long process with some ups and downs, but come Fall, their little guy should be ready for school.  I was sitting in the waiting area just outside the unit and it was busy and filled parents and their kids, grandparents, friends and visitors.  The room was full of balloons and stuffed animals and flowers waiting to be delivered to the kids on the other side of the large metallic doors.

In spite of the din from many voices speaking all-at-once in a confined area, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation taking place on the benches directly behind me.  It was between two families each of who had been through the process and who now had mostly healthy children.  Both of their kids’ cancers were in remission and one of them was crediting stem cell therapy for their child’s improved health.

There was a mumbled and undecipherable question or comment from one of the other parents and the mother who’d been talking said, “No, no, no, embryonic stem-cells don’t work.”  She continued by saying that her daughter had been treated with Autologous Stem Cell transplant.  I had to make a note on my phone to later research what she was talking about and the process is brilliantly explained here.

The families continued to chat for a few more minutes and the little girl who’d had the ACS transplant was given the go-ahead to leave.  Curiosity got the best of me and I turned around to see what this woman looked like and just as I did, she gently reached down and patted the forearm of the other mother and quite emphatically said, “Embryonic stem cells just don’t work, they can’t treat cancer.” As she was speaking those words she caught my gaze, smiled politely, gathered her winter trappings, her daughter, and left.  I haven’t stopped thinking about those 3 seconds since.

Mostly because she’s right – embryonic stem cells just don’t work.  We’ve known that for so long.  We’ve known that the process of destroying one human life in a vacuous attempt to save another wasn’t just hugely unethical and wrong – but we’ve known that nothing could come of it.

When on the Oprah Winfrey show, television personality Dr. Oz looked at Michael J. Fox and quite famously said, “The debate on embryonic stem cell research is over,” we in the pro-life movement believed him that it was.  It isn’t and we continue to educate people on the lack of efficacy in continuing with that type of research and we continue to fight for its end as we celebrate and rejoice in the wonders and prospects of adult stem cell research.

There is a family in Northern Virginia, nameless to me, with an articulate and emphatically vocal Mom who knows the truth.  I pray for her, her family and her daughter’s continued good health.

Please also pray for my friend, his family and their four-year-old son.