Young survivor fights for childhood cancer awareness in Congress

Paula Wolfson, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – Trevor Schaefer was only 13 when he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

“It was a shock to me,” he recalls. “And right off the bat, the first words out of my mouth were ‘Am I going to die?'”

Schaefer beat the cancer and gained a mission.

At 22, Schaefer is now an advocate for children with cancer, and the inspiration behind “Trevor’s Law,” a bill now pending in Congress that would give governments more authority to determine if environmental toxins are causing clusters of kids in specific geographic areas to get cancer and other dangerous diseases.

Schaefer began to think about the possible link between his illness and the environment while he was undergoing radiation and chemotherapy at a hospital in Boise, Idaho.

He knew kids don’t engage in the kind of behavior usually linked to cancer, like smoking, and Schaefer says he found himself wondering why so many were getting sick. The prevalence of childhood cancer was especially felt in McCall, the small town where he lived, about 100 miles from Boise, Idaho.

“There were four other cases of brain cancer diagnosed in the same year as mine,” says Schaefer, who has long believed the cause of his cancer was environmental toxins.

In 2007, along with his mother, Charlie Smith, Schaefer launched a foundation called “Trevor’s Trek.” Its original aim was to increase awareness of childhood cancers. But within a year or two, Trevor, his family and his foundation began to focus on tracking down the causes as well.

They found support on Capitol Hill where an odd political partnership was formed. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.) and Mike Crappo (R-Idaho) joined forces to promote “Trevor’s Law.”

Schaefer admits he was surprised when the two senators on different ends of the political spectrum united behind his proposal. But he says Boxer cares deeply about childrens’ health and the environment, and Crappo, a two-time cancer survivor, took the issue personally.

“I think both senators realized that the bigger picture here was protecting our children and our communities from possible environmental toxins,” Schaefer says.

The proposed legislation has already passed a Senate committee, but it faces an even greater obstacle to final passage: the election-year congressional calendar.

Schaefer acknowledges it is going to be difficult to get a vote in the full Senate, but they are going to keep on trying. And if “Trevor’s Law” gets pushed back to the next congressional session, he will be back in Washington fighting for the legislation.

“We are dedicated to this law and seeing it enacted,” Shaefer says. “We will do what we have to do to give it the best shot.”

Schaefer has taken time off from his studies at Boise State University to lead the fight. There are more than 2,000 signatures on the petition for “Trevor’s Law” so far. Schaefer also has a new book about his story, “The Boy on the Lake,” coming out this fall.

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