YEREVAN — According to the World Health Organization, annually about 400,000 children up to 19 years old develop cancer. In Armenia each year approximately 8,500 people are diagnosed with cancer, and 80-100 of them are children.
Recently we had a chance to speak with Ester Demirtshyan, Executive Director of City of Smile Charitable Foundation, and Dr. Gevorg Tamamyan, head of the Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Armenia, at the Professor Yeolyan Hematology Center.
Back in 2014, a group of oncologists-hematologists kicked off the City of Smile Foundation with an initial goal of raising awareness about cancer, translating scientific articles and publishing materials for doctors. Two years later, in 2016, jointly with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, the foundation kicked off the program of social-psychological support that allowed local psychologists to work with children and families under the mentorship of their colleagues from Dana-Farber similar service.
In 2018, City of Smile started to sponsor the treatment of children with pediatric cancer. “We inherited the best guidelines from similar large funds and put them into practice. But most importantly, we undertook the full funding of cancer treatment, which was a game changer in the field of charity in Armenia,” says Ester Demirtshyan, claiming that the diagnosis of a child should never cause a financial collapse to the family.
Another important accomplishment of the foundation is related to the age limit of beneficiaries. Despite the fact that the official age limit for pediatric cancer is 18, young people up to 25 years old can apply to City of Smile for financial help, and the foundation tries to raise that threshold every five years. The goal is to take away at least the financial burden for parents who are already facing such difficulties.
The slogan of City of Smile reads: “Cancer is not contagious, love is.” Yet outside Yerevan there are regions where the disease is regarded as something contagious, demeaning and shameful. In this, City of Smile plays a big role in removing such destructive and superstitious beliefs. Demirtshyan is sure that casting a positive light in the process has changed the way parents regard this disease. There are many difficult processes beyond the curtain, yet cancer is not a verdict.