Christine Brouwer founded Mira’s Movement in 2008 after her daughter, Mira, died at the age of 4 from complications of treatment for brain cancer. The organization supports families whose children have been diagnosed with cancer and advocates on behalf of children with cancer and their families.
My daughter Mira, a beautiful, funny, and smart little girl, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, one week before her second birthday. From the moment my husband and I heard this awful news, we have wanted to know “Why did this happen? What caused her cancer?” Today, five years since that initial diagnosis, these questions still haunt us, especially because Mira is no longer with us. Sadly, there are thousands of parents around the country who are struggling with the same uncertainty.
Although there are few definitive answers to the question of why children get cancer, I know that many of us have a strong intuitive feeling that something in our environment is causing our kids to get sick. I will most likely never know what caused my daughter’s cancer, but researchers are finding more and more links between the hazardous substances in our homes and workplaces and cancer and other diseases.
Mira was 23 months old when she began to complain of headaches. A week later, she began to throw up once or twice a day. A week later she began to sit on the couch for longer periods of time. Yet another week later, she was refusing to walk. After 4 weeks of symptoms and tests with no clear answers, her doctor sent her for a CT scan. Moments later, we were looking at an image on a monitor that the radiologist was explaining showed hydrocephalus (a build up of fluid and pressure on the brain). He said Mira would need surgery immediately to relieve the pressure in her head. She had a brain tumor.
We were about to embark on a journey that I had never imagined. A parents’ worst nightmare is for their child to be diagnosed with a life threatening illness. I was about to watch my 1 year old, and my family, go through hell.
Mira had 10 hours of surgery the next day during which the surgeon removed only 65% of her tumor. She was on a ventilator in the pediatric ICU for a week when it was determined that she needed a tracheotomy. On January 27, her second birthday, she had two surgeries to insert a trach and a feeding tube. You’re now only beginning to get the picture.
Mira’s treatment included ten more surgeries, five cycles of chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant and two radiation treatments. After 15 months of treatment and side effects, Mira had finally beaten her cancer. We celebrated every step toward recovery and normalcy. She began pre-K the following Fall and loved school and her friends. On her 4th birthday, January 27, 2008, she woke up complaining of dizziness. An MRI the next day confirmed our worst fears—her tumor had returned. She had another successful surgery at NYU Medical Center, and in March began another treatment regimen. A few weeks later, while on vacation in Florida, the treatment made her unexpectedly ill. Mira became very sick, very quickly. We took her to the hospital in Tampa, where she was admitted. She was moved to the pediatric ICU two days later, where her body was unable to fight any longer. She died 4 days later.
To properly understand why each of us needs to care so much about eradicating the causes of this disease, I believe that you have to envision a child that you love going through this hell. Our children are not statistics.
In my personal quest for an answer to what caused her cancer, I have run through many possibilities: Was it the new bed we bought at the start of my pregnancy? Was it the wooden frame treated with polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) to make it fire resistant? Did that PBDE make its way into my bloodstream and to my developing baby? Was it dioxins from cleaning chemicals used in our household? Was my minimal use of bleach for laundry and cleaning enough to expose myself and my baby to harmful levels of dioxins? Was it from the fumes of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released when we painted in our house? Clearly, part of my dismay is that there are so many possible carcinogens that we are exposed to. And then we hear that several children’s bath products have ingredients that can combine to create formaldehyde. Could exposures from multiple sources add up to cancer?
In the summer of 2010, President Obama’s Cancer Panel Report was released, stating that our environment is probably much more to blame for the incidence of cancer than we had previously acknowledged. Interestingly, the American Cancer Society made a statement in response in which they said that Americans needed to worry less about the environment and make better lifestyle choices for themselves. Clearly, they don’t speak for children with cancer.
Our government can be slow to make changes in policy, not wanting to dampen business freedoms and profits without “proof.” I’ve heard researchers say that they remember the same being said about cigarette production and sales. And now, tobacco awareness and attempts to prevent lung cancer are a given. But most would admit, it was about 30 years too late.
What has become clear to me over these years is that many parents believe that our government regulates harmful chemicals and protects our children and families from known hazards. When they discover that this isn’t the case, they’re shocked. We need to update the Toxic Chemicals Control Act immediately, for the sake of our children, and all who love them.
Appreciate discussing your story. The poignency of the items your loved ones experienced ought to be a obvious indication for change.Posted by: Tampa Fl Sedation Dentist | Apr 10, 2012 1:30:10 AM
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As parents as we are, we put our life to a higher actions just to save our loving child. Mira is a brave girl, and as long as she knows that she can still handle the pain that she felt, she will still show to us that she was a brave one and of course I am proud of you for being a strong Mom to her. You let her show how to fight of all the circumstances you have encountered. There are thousands of parents around the country who are struggling with the same uncertainty of yours but believe me, your story caught my attention and I am sorry for your loss..Posted by: Las Vegas Dentist | Jul 28, 2011 5:48:48 PM
Thanks for reminding us about those chemicals that could give a bad effect in our body, I really appreciate it and I also appreciate your story so much. Thank you
Dear blog readers, Thanks for your notes of sympathy and support. No, no child or family should ever have to experience what we have. We miss Mira every day and still ask "why?". Sadly, we can make informed choices for our families, but we can't shop our way to the end of childhood cancer, or other childhood diseases. Yes, eat organic, use plant-based cleaning and skin care products, avoid water and airborn toxins when possible--but contact your representatives and ask them to support the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011. Only larger, comprehensive regulation of toxins in our environment will address this issue. I'll be in DC next week--please join me in speaking up on this issue. To safer days ahead for our country's children--ChristinePosted by: Christine Brouwer (Mira's Mom) | May 19, 2011 8:10:09 PM
This article caught my eye because my own daughter is named Mira. My heart goes out to your family over your loss, and thank you for reminding even those of us who are vigilant with chemicals to revisit our practices. We eat organic and use chemical-free products whenever possible, but it's so hard to know what's safe.Posted by: Eco Convert | May 17, 2011 1:10:16 PM
I'm so deeply sorry for the loss of your innocent child. I sometimes feel like a lone crusader trying to remove toxins from our family's environment. We are exposed to many chemicals and in my mind they must be connected to cancer in some way. I signed the petition. Our children deserve to be protected.Posted by: Kristen Fagan | May 17, 2011 11:37:22 AM
I am so terribly sorry for your loss and I was touched by your story. My cousin died of neuroblastoma when he was only three, many years ago and it was so heartbreaking. No parent should have to go through this nightmare or wonder whether it was caused by everyday chemicals in our lives. I signed the petition. Thank you for sharing.Posted by: Childrens dentist Las Vegas | Apr 24, 2011 10:14:11 PM
As a mom, I salute your courage as you turn your wrenching experience into efforts to help others avoid going through what you did. Parents simply shouldn't have to wonder whether the products we buy and the food we feed our families contain toxins that could cause cancers to grow in our children. Thank you for inspiring us to push for a healthier future.Posted by: kristin schafer | Feb 2, 2011 10:29:01 AM
I am so sorry for your loss and am impressed by your mission to educate others. I have 5 children, and have tried to eliminate the toxic chemicals from our home, and have even gone so far as to have our own cow so that we are not exposing our children to the many hormones and chemical added to milk, but I constantly worry about the plastic that the food we DO get from the grocery store comes in...
Thank you for sharing.Posted by: Laila Moysey | Jan 28, 2011 5:06:26 AM
Sad indeed and frightening to raise grand-kids in a world where profits and greed outweigh the protection of the innocent!Posted by: Karla | Jan 27, 2011 12:50:38 PM
Beam me up Scottie!
Thank you for sharing your story. The poignency of what your family went through should be a clear indication for change. Government and industry has to make a commitment to change. As with other hidden dangers out families have innocently been exposed to, solutions that become economically viable / profitable will pave the road for change.
I am so sorry for your pain and so grateful for what you're doing now to help bring about change. Please take a look at research and information from silentspring.org
Thank you!Posted by: Ellen Calmas | Jan 26, 2011 6:44:44 PM
Thank you for your brave journey, for sharing it, and for desiring to make a difference for others. I am very moved. I am grateful for your voice and for your inquiry into the link between chemicals and our health. Our children deserve the best environment we can provide.Posted by: Elizabeth Hosp | Jan 26, 2011 10:30:16 AM