JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville 16-year-old boy, who had an aggressive form of bone cancer, was laid to rest on Saturday.
News4Jax first brought you Talen Birt’s story last month when the organization Dreams Come True surprised him with a special parade at his school, Andrew Jackson High. Talen’s osteosarcoma had metastasized to his left lung which prevented him from being in the classroom.
“It was just hard going to tell your son that there’s nothing else they can do,” said Matthew Birt, Talen’s father “Good athlete, perfect kid, no problems. He never got in trouble. A/B honor roll and he just loved his family.”
Through the 26 rounds of chemo, several surgeries and the osteosarcoma spreading since his diagnosis in 2019, Talen Birt’s focus was getting out of the hospital to go to school and taking care of others.
Talen tragically lost his battle on Aug. 30. It’s his legacy that keeps his family moving forward.
“Before he passed, that Sunday, he had his bookbag packed again. He said ‘I’m going to school on Wednesday, right dad?’” said Matthew.
Talen’s parents were devastated by the diagnosis nearly two years ago, but Talen went through his journey with positivity, giving his family strength.
“When we told him, the first thing that came out of his mouth was ‘God is positive, so therefore, I am positive,’” said Michelle, Talen’s mother.
Matthew knew something was wrong when his son was limping and took him right to the doctors for testing.
Their message: listen and watch your children. Let them guide you on their journey.
“What really surprised me when they talked about cancer research only 4% of federal dollars go to childhood cancer research. I was blown away,” said Matthew.
The Birt’s would see the pediatric floor filled with babies through 19-year-olds being treated for cancer.
Dr. Eric Sandler, the chairman department of pediatrics at Nemours, said the funding is inadequate.
“I think part of it is children are not voting citizens and that makes a difference,” said Dr. Sandler. “I think if you look at the numbers pediatric cancer is only 1% of all the cancers that occur in the U.S.”
Dr. Sandler said while the numbers are small, “but when you look at life-years saved because a two-year-old cured of cancer will be a member of society for another hopefully 70 to 80 years.”
He also said pediatrics still benefit from adult cancers research, so when a new treatment is developed for adults, it can also be applied to kids too.
Another issue, doctors are still using the same treatment in 2021 that we were using in 1981. Sandler said this is not because people haven’t tried, but because the outcomes haven’t changed.
“There would be more research being done if there was more funding to help those researchers,” said Sandler.
While the Birt’s lay their child to rest, they are shining a spotlight on this issue.
“So it’s our journey to carry Talen’s legacy is to make some awareness with our legislators and our congressman because we have to make some awareness and let folks know we got to do better,” said Matthew.
They thank God for the time they shared together.
“I coached Talen in football, basketball and baseball so I got that boy for 16 years where some fathers never get that,” said Matthew.
Not only are the Birt’s raising awareness of federal funding for pediatric cancer, but they continue Talen’s legacy and love for school. Talen’s parents have set up an educational scholarship in their son’s name to help families who are also facing hardships with medical bills.
Shandler said while federal funding is low, there have been remarkable efforts within the past few years to try to improve that, including the alliance for childhood cancer, Childhood Cancer Star Act. There’s also a Biden initiative trying to get more funding. Doctors are also pushing for a Child Cancer Data Initiative for a national database.