‘I Will Not Stop Until There's a Cure': South San Francisco Glows Gold for Childhood Cancer Awareness

South San Francisco, from its historic hilltop sign to City Hall, is joining other cities around the United States in a push to #gogold to raise awareness about childhood cancer. 

Jesus Peña says the color gold symbolizes how precious kids are. 

Peña and Patricia Watson spearheaded the initiative after their daughter, Juliana, died of neuroblastoma in 2012, when she was just 2 years old.

The gold-hued bulbs ornamenting the tree at the city's hilltop sign has been lit up for the last four years in Juliana's memory and, this year, the city added gold projections blanketing City Hall.

"We hope that whenever residents see the gold-lit tree on Sign Hill, as well as City Hall adorned in gold lights during September, they will say a prayer for Juliana and others who lost their battles with childhood cancer, and help spread awareness of this horrible disease," said South San Francisco Mayor Pradeep Gupta.

Both lighting displays will be up every night throughout the month of September.

"I leave to work 5 a.m. in the morning and I see it. I say hello to it every morning," Peña said. "I hope people see the sign and they ask questions and that starts a conversation about what this cancer is about."

Juliana’s Journey Foundation
In 2014, California declared September would be Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in honor of Juliana and the hundreds of other children sickened by cancer.

The San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California have the largest concentration of biotech companies in the nation, and Peña hopes that initiatives like Childhood Cancer Awareness month and cities awash in gold will help spur more research about potential treatments.

"[The treatment] affects their hearing, reproductive systems — there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be changed and worked on," Peña said. "Most kids that do beat it end up having secondary cancers from all of the harsh treatment."

The American Cancer Society underscores the need for research specifically for the treatment of children since most cancers that affect them are biologically different than those found in adults. However, there is less incentive to fund research and develop new drugs, the organization said, due to the rarity of pediatric cancers.

"[Doctors] told me I had a better chance of winning the lotto than my daughter getting neuroblastoma," Peña said.

Despite that bold declaration, the American Cancer Society reports that cancer remains the leading disease-related cause of death among children who are under 19 years old.

Juliana's family is determined to shed light on the devastating illness.

"I made a promise to [Juliana] that her fight didn’t end there," Peña said. "There will be a reason behind why she went through what she went through. I will not stop until there’s a cure or until I'm gone."

Juliana’s Journey Foundation will be honored at the South San Francisco City Council meeting on Oct. 11 for its work during Childhood Cancer Awareness month.

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