Throwing Marshmallows to Bears

My family is forced to endure many quirks. It’s part of the price of admission to my ride and I seem to latch on to more as the years go by.

One constant is my love of roadside attractions. I absolutely adore them! The cheesier the better. Who doesn’t get the urge to stop when they see the sign for the home of Superman, Metropolis, Illinois or the world’s largest ball of string?

Years ago, I was headed to Gatlinburg with my oldest two girls when I saw a sign in Cherokee, North Carolina that said you could feed bears. Think we stopped?

Of course we stopped. We bought our little bags of bear food and soon found ourselves standing on a walkway looking down into pits that housed the massive creatures. They were looking up and waving at us for their food.


Their food? Marshmallows.

Think of the ridiculous nature of the scene. My curly, blonde little girls, weighing somewhere between 30 and 50 pounds each at the time, awkwardly throwing little puffy balls of sugar at docile-looking 400 to 500 pound bears. At some point, I noticed my girls were actually having a picnic with them – throw one, eat one, throw one, etc. and the bears were getting restless. They never marveled at the size of the bear or the unnatural setting – they were just enjoying their marshmallows with their furry companions as if seated on a checkered blanket together.

Sometimes you witness a scene such as that and it makes you wonder at its absurdity.

But we do the same thing. Let me construct another scene for you.

In February of 2014, our youngest daughter, Kylie was in the 6th grade. We had just gotten back from a Disneyworld vacation when her knee started to hurt. Doctors initially thought it was from all of the walking we did. In March they moved on to a growth plate issue, and then in April we heard the words, “Your child has cancer.”

What I learned on that day was that if I had gotten the same cancer as Kylie had when I was her age, I would have had the same treatment. You heard that right. The treatments for many childhood cancers have changed little in the last forty years.

With all of the scientific, medical, and technological advancements we’ve made in four decades, when it comes to childhood cancer, we are still only throwing marshmallows at bears.

Marshmallows won’t stop the problem bear – they won’t even slow it down if it is really angry. You can hurl all the sweets at it you want but that bear will keep on coming. Like a low budget horror film, the more you stop to throw, the closer the bear gets with its fangs, claws, and mighty roar.

And the childhood cancer bear is getting hungrier. Incidences are up 24% over the last forty years and it is the leading cause of death by disease for children.

So what are we doing as a society?

Sadly, very little.

 Consider this:

  • All childhood cancers combined receive less than 4% of federal cancer research funding – and overall funding dollars took a massive hit in the 2018 budget.
  • Prostate cancer receives 5%.
  • Since 1980, only 4 drugs have been approved specifically for children.
  • 1 in 5 children do not survive.

I picked on prostate cancer and there is a good reason.

  • The average age at diagnosis for childhood cancer is 6 years-old.
  • The average age at diagnosis for prostate cancer is 66 years-old.

The overall cure rate for all childhood cancers combined is 83% and prostate cancer is 95%. Yet our government is spending more research dollars there than on all childhood cancers.

You tell me one 66-year-old grandfather with prostate cancer who would say this is fair! Kylie’s granddaddy, a prostate cancer survivor wouldn’t. In fact, he prayed with the rest of us for God to take him instead.


The marshmallows we threw at Kylie’s bear were inadequate, unsafe, and in the end, ineffective. We must find new ways to beat cancer and private funding of cutting-edge research is crucial. If we stand outside the pit and trust the government to do it, that bear will keep coming for our children.


Remember those bears that we visited when my girls were young? Soon after we left, two tribal elders fought on the bears’ behalf and the park was closed down. All of the bears were moved to a new life with room to roam. No more marshmallows hurled into enclosures. Real food.

This is what we need for children with cancer. We need to stop throwing marshmallows and work together to find the solution. Our children are depending on us.

14 thoughts on “Throwing Marshmallows to Bears

  1. Great analogy! I’m glad the bears are free. I had breast cancer 29 years ago and as I’ve watched others undergo treatment recently, the only difference I’ve seen is that taxol/taxotere has been added to the chemo regimen. The money spent on research doesn’t seem to change much for the patients.

    1. I admit that i know nothing about breast cancer except that it gets a lion’s share of the research dollars. No cancer is good cancer, but I think children deserve a little better… they are dependent on us to do it.

  2. I marvel at your ability to embroider a story with a kicker of a punchline. I hope those who allocate funds are more moved to act because of your words. ((hugs))

    1. Thanks Paul. I’ve nearly given up on the government allocation. My pleas are more for adults who children depend on to fund private research. What problem did the government ever solve anyway.

  3. Sadly, the key lies in your sentence, “ If we trust in the government…”. Even as a woman whose mother died of breast cancer, I’ve about had it with all of this pink ribbon crap. Why don’t we direct a pittance of their research dollars to fighting childhood cancers? (I can tell already that my last comment won’t be very popular). We shouldn’t have to choose, but, if that is our only option, I want a much larger slice of the research dollars pie to go to childhood cancers. All lives are valuable, but if it’s a choice between me ( I’m 70 ) and Kylie, she would have been the winner in that
    race. Full stop!

  4. I detest the fact that our children are only worth 4%! Why , why, I continually ask and never receive an answer. I hate cancer and I hate the lack of research and funding for childhood cancer.

  5. You blew my mind in sharing that cancer treatments haven’t changed much in the last several decades. I’m proud to be associated with a company making some strides in the right direction…but, it’s still not fast enough.
    On a lighter note – I totally imagined a view of Kylie throwing marshmallows at you from up above… and bonking you on the head 🙂

    1. Haha. Kylie would totally throw marshmallows at my head. She would love that.

      Yes, it is staggering to think of the scientific discovery of the last 40 years but the lack of change in treatment. Really unbelievable… you just assume things would change.

  6. You are so right. I recently spoke to a church group of older ladies about childhood cancer.
    They were shocked at the numbers and the lack of progress.
    They all made the comment “ we have lived a full life and yes, cancer is horrible at at any age but these are children with their lives ahead of them. They shouldn’t have to suffer this fate”.
    It has to change!

    1. Yes. I think most people would feel the same way. No grandparent would hog the research. Pity it is up to lobbyists and congressmen… I have to wonder where their loyalties lie. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$

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