Books: Lessons from My Son’s Tattoo

by Jocelin Diaz

Local mom Caryn Franca helps families battling cancer. 

Caryn, Nicholas and Jim Franca (Photo courtesy of Caryn Franca)

You hear personal stories from parents who have lost their children to cancer. They want to bring awareness to the issue, to let other parents know they’re not alone.

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D.C. mom Caryn Franca is no different. She decided to share her family’s story to provide universal words of wisdom. “Lessons from My Son’s Tattoo” is personal, raw and moving.

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It centers around her son’s creed and how it helped her family get through Nicholas’ battle.

Her son’s tattoo was a compass which pointed to his four values: Courage, Strength, Friends, Family and in the middle, Faith. These five words helped Franca and her family through the ups and downs of cancer treatment and in her book, she shares lessons that will not only help families battling cancer, but everyone needing guidance.

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Franca was part of a group of parents that came together to find a less painful treatment for neuroblastoma, a cancer found in children in which nerve cells don’t mature properly. Band of Parents was formed in 2007 when parents whose children had relapsed, including Nicholas, came together to find a solution. They wanted better treatment options that would be less toxic and painful than the ones currently available, but knew there wasn’t enough funding.

Research funding for childhood cancer is lacking and not just for neuroblastoma. Many other forms of childhood cancer don’t have less painful treatments. While Band of Parents focuses on neuroblastoma research and treatment, Franca says that “there is some cross research that a couple of our projects are looking at that will be beneficial to several other types of childhood cancer.”

Band of Parents has helped fund an antibody that makes treatment more bearable for the children. The 3F8 – monoclonal antibody developed by Dr. Nai-Kong Cheung, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, attaches to the neuroblastoma cells and kills them. The 3F8 antibody can also teach the child’s immune system to kill the cancer cells.

For families battling cancer but unable to move closer to a treatment center, Franca says to “never just trust the first opinion you’re given. No matter what, always get a second opinion.” She says it’s important to do research on what protocols your home hospital has for treating childhood cancer. Reaching out to foundations like Band of Parents that help fund research is another way to ensure you are making an informed decision. Franca also suggest talking to your hospital to see if they can collaborate with other institutions so you don’t have to leave home.

For readers who want to help combat childhood cancer, Franca says there are many ways to help locally. D.C.’s annual CureFest for Childhood Cancer brings organizations and families together. If you’re unable to help financially, Franca says there are many acts of kindness that can help a family get through cancer; doing their laundry, taking them out to coffee and giving them ‘normal.’

The small moments of ‘normal’ that she had throughout her son’s battle helped her remember her son’s creed. “Learn to set goals; benchmarks of normalcy that help steer you in small, deliberate ways,” says Franca. These instances came from daily routines, time alone getting coffee and nights out with her husband. Learning how to move forward every day, have faith and practice your values is what Franca wants her readers to take out of her book.

Book proceeds will be going to Band of Parents to help fund research for neuroblastoma. “Lessons from My Son’s Tattoo” is available on

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