One mom’s effort to raise awareness for childhood cancer goes viral

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Mason Silva with his mom, Alissa.
Mason Silva with his mom, Alissa. –Courtesy of Alissa Silva

Mason Silva was born on April 5, 2013. He had brown hair and brown eyes. He liked to watch Mickey Mouse Club and play patty-cake.

His mom, Alissa, never liked the dimple in her own chin, but loved Mason’s.

“He was just a happy guy, loved to smile,’’ she said. “He had the biggest belly laugh. He loved to blow raspberries all the time.’’

When he was about five months old, Mason began having persistent fevers that wouldn’t go away. A couple weeks later, he was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia.

“We found out that he had cancer and our lives just kind of took off from there, unfortunately,’’ Silva said. “It’s been a nightmare ever since.’’

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Despite the nightmare, Silva said her son still managed to smile most days.

The night of his first birthday he relapsed, and on April 28, 2014, he died in his mother’s arms.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Last year, Silva, a Salem native, and her husband, Kevin, sold mason jars to raise money for pediatric cancer research. They raised about $10,000 selling the jars decorated with gold ribbons and flowers — the color for childhood cancer awareness.

The Danvers couple welcomed their second child, a daughter named Alexis, earlier this year, so doing a large project again wasn’t as feasible.

This time, Silva made a video sharing her family’s experience and information about childhood cancer to raise awareness. And it has.

The video was posted on the family’s Baby Mason Updates Facebook page on September 1. By September 2, it had 25 million views.

This is my fight song and I will keep fighting for my baby and all of the kids.

Posted by Baby Mason Updates on Monday, August 31, 2015

“When Mason was sick and he was basically on his way to heaven, I just couldn’t believe how awful and traumatic of an experience it was for me as a parent,’’ Silva said. “Seeing the things he went through. It wasn’t a pleasant death by any means. He suffered.’’

Silva said she promised her son that his death wouldn’t be in vain, that she’d do her best to ensure no child, father, or mother had to endure the pain and heartache her family has gone through.

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Silva said she’s amazed at the response the video has gotten.

“I was shooting for maybe a million views,’’ she said. “I had no idea it would ever get to the number that it’s at right now.’’

She said raising awareness is key in order to increase the funding for research. Only 4 percent of the National Cancer Institute’s budget is dedicated to pediatric cancer, according to the Dana-Farber and Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.

Every day 43 children are diagnosed with cancer, and five children die every day from it, according to the medical center.

“When Mason was diagnosed, I didn’t know much about childhood cancer, obviously, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, well, at least it’s 2013, we’re in the United States, we’re in Boston, we’re going to have the best of the best,’’’ Silva said. “But I quickly went on to learn that the drugs that were being used were years old, a lot of things hadn’t been changed or updated in a long time.’’

Silva said she also quickly learned that the drugs would have lifelong side effects on her son, which according to Dana-Farber and Boston Children’s is not unusual — 32 percent of childhood cancer survivors experience “severe, disabling, life-threatening, or chronic’’ effects from their treatment.

“It’s just so unfair that these kids are getting these treatments, that you’re basically poisoning your child to keep them alive,’’ Silva said.

Everyone has a role to play in the fight against Childhood Cancer, according to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. On September 3, Walsh described his own experience as survivor of childhood cancer in column for The Boston Herald.

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The day before, he kicked off Childhood Cancer Awareness Month at City Hall. The Zakim Bridge and the T.D. Garden are being lit with gold lights for the first week of September for the cause. Later this month, the annual Jimmy Fund Walk will take place to help raise funds for cancer research at Dana-Farber.

Silva emphasized there are many ways for people to get involved in the cause besides simply donating. Buzzathons, shaving your head for cancer, or simply making the effort to learn more of the facts behind pediatric cancer are just as important, she said. On her Facebook page, she pointed viewers to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to learn more about childhood cancer.

“It’s something that can happen to anybody, and a lot of parents don’t want to hear about that because it’s scary,’’ she said of the disease. “But I’m sure any parent out there would want to have the best drug available for their children if it ever, God forbid, happened. It’s just so important that our kids get more attention and more funding and more awareness so that some day we have better treatments and better cure rates and better success.’’

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