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What do you stand for?

Dear Empire State Building—Why Won’t You Go Gold?

What do you stand for? Written by Emleigh Hughes, RA volunteer

ABC’s “The View,” Shutterstock, the VMAs, MLB Opening Day, Superbowl 50, the 140th Annual Dog Show, and Valentine’s Day: seven things you’ve lit your building up for, and a silly reminder that you have yet to light it up for the seven kids that will die of cancer each day in America alone.

I feel my heart start to hurt. Since 2013, the pediatric cancer awareness community has tried persistently (with formal applications, petitions, and social media involvement) to have you recognize children with cancer by lighting your building gold one night in September, the official month for childhood cancer.

I’d like to disclose a fun fact about me: nobody in my family, including myself, has ever had pediatric cancer. I was never “personally” affected by it. However, all it took was one night browsing on the internet when I discovered the blog of a mom whose son was fighting for his life. His name was Ronan and he had the prettiest blue eyes and a love for “Star Wars.” As I followed their blog, it started to become real that childhood cancer isn’t something only in St. Jude commercials, and it isn’t cute tiny bald heads. When Ronan died, I stepped away from reading his mom’s posts for a while because the pain in her words felt too much for me to witness. Can you imagine being his mom? His siblings and his dad? They never get to step away from the pain. They can’t ever close their laptops and forget the pain Ronan’s cancer caused. And Empire State Building, that’s why I’m asking you to go gold.

You don’t have to be personally affected by childhood cancer to acknowledge it, you just have to open your mind for just a moment and think about seeing your child fighting for their life, sometimes too young to understand what that means. After I decided five years ago that this was a cause I wanted to dedicate my life to, I got involved by working with Riley’s Army, and organization started to support families affected by pediatric cancer, all because Riley had cancer and died from it, too. They have granted me the priceless honor of seeing children in real life fighting harder every day than I think I ever could. I get to live just a small part of their harsh reality for a few hours a week, and then I get to go home and get away from it when I leave. They will never get to do that again. When I have to put a mask on to go into an innocent child’s room, or when I see the pain in their eyes when they want to play and can’t, I know they are worth you lighting gold for, even just one time.

Empire State Building, you called us bullies at one point because we publicly shared your decision to not go gold for children with cancer. We are not bullies, and we will not get over it. Moms and dads who have to live their lives in remembrance of their dead child will never get over it. Siblings who have to go to school this year without their brother or sister because they died will never get over it. Doctors and nurses, child life specialists and social workers who work with these kids in real time will never get over it. And I, a girl changed by a dying 3-year-old six years ago, will never get over it. I am so disappointed in what you stand for. If you don’t stand for children—our future, then what do you stand for? You can light it green for Ninja Turtles who fight evils in a fake society, but not babies, toddlers, children, and teenagers who fight cancer in their own body. I just don’t get it.

When I was a child, I would hear of your building in my Social Studies class, and dream one day of taking a picture in front of it. And now I’m an adult who dreams of saving children dying of cancer, advocating for them because they can’t always advocate for themselves. I’ll never take away from when you light pink for the Estee Lauder Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, I just want you to light gold for children developing cancers before they even get to develop breasts. Empire State Building: have your workers scrub in, put on a mask and gown, and walk into the room of a child fighting cancer. And then tell me that they aren’t worth lighting gold for.

In the 67 minutes it took me to write this article, 19 children have been forever changed by pediatric cancer. It isn’t rare. Please visit,, to learn more facts, or visit, ,,, and to make donation/difference in a child’s life.