As I sat down beside that young lady, almost five years ago this month, I wondered what the details of the story she had to tell me were. I had a general idea; she had a child with cancer and she was looking for a way to raise funds for him, and if my then employers agreed, it would be a big deal.
However, there was a story to tell. Lara was a young lady with a heavy burden, relieved significantly by a Non-Governmental Organisation dealing with childhood cancer, but even they needed help, as there were more children than they could help.
As she opened her mouth to share her story, the bubbly light in her eyes dimmed just a bit, and she started on a self-accusatory note. Mommas and guilt are somewhat inseparable sha. She told me of how her son fell down at six months of age, hitting his jaw line on the hard cement floor of their home.
Lara shared how she had nursed the swollen jaw until it was back to normal. However, two years later, when he was due to resume school, she noticed a swelling along his right cheek. The doctor prescribed some drugs, and it seemed to get better. Until one day, when she was called from her son’s school that her son was having a fever and needed to be taken the hospital. She left her shift work and headed for her son’s school.
Not only was he running a temperature, the swelling around his right jaw line was back, and he was weak. Alarmed she took him to the hospital, and that was the start of her journey to one of the tertiary hospitals in the country. As at the time we met, she and her son lived in the hospital. She was out of a job, her baby daddy had deserted her, complaining about the high cost of treating their son. Her parents did as much as they could for their grandchild, but even they needed help.
It was a story that touched me, and I went back to work to push for the story to go, especially the part of how the public could help Lara and her family. Unfortunately, my boss didn’t see it that way. The story was published, minus how people could help.
I was a very sad person for not being able to help as much as I could, and that stopped me from following up with Lara. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand the disappointment in her eyes. However, inasmuch as I couldn’t help, I can never forget her or cease to wonder if her son got the kind of help he needed.
September is the month dedicated to raising awareness about childhood cancer, as I discovered after coming across an old notebook of mine, where I had written Lara and her son’s story.
May we or our children never experience cancer, however, here are some things parents and indeed anyone should know about childhood cancer.
The causes of cancer are largely unknown:
Just like in adults, the causes of most childhood cancers are unknown. The standard analysis remains that most cancers in children are thought to develop as a result of mutations in genes that lead to uncontrolled cell growth and eventually cancer.
It is assumed that these genetic mutations can occur even during the development of a feotus. The doctor, who ran the NGO through whom I met Lara, suspected that the bones of her son’s jawline had been cancerous from birth, and the fall he’d had merely spurred an already bad situation, but wasn’t the cause of the sarcoma.
The chances of diagnosis are poor:
According to the American Cancer Society, the chances of a child being diagnosed with cancer before the age of 20 is 1 in 285, or just more than one-third of one percent, and that is a dire statistic.
300,000 are diagnosed every year globally:
Even with the poor chances of being diagnosed, some 300,000 children are being diagnosed with childhood cancer on a yearly basis.
According to new research carried out by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), about 215,000 children worldwide, from age 0 to 14-years, are newly diagnosed with childhood cancer each year.
That stat is a huge increment from their last study, which showed about 165,000 new cases of childhood cancer each year.
On top of that, the new study found that 85,000 adolescents, from 15-year-olds to 19-year-olds, are being diagnosed each year, bringing the overall incidence of childhood cancer to 300,000 kids per year.
In plain English, it means a child is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes. You can just imagine if the chances of diagnosis were improved, perhaps we will be grappling with even more chilling data about childhood cancer.
More than half of the children diagnosed with cancer are in developing countries:
Now, that is not a surprising data, our hospitals tell the story clearly. The level of awareness in our society tells the story.
Even though childhood cancer is a global problem, the fact that most developing nations have no cancer registers or even well-equipped cancer centres means children often go undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, unreported and unrecorded.
According to reports, some forms of cancer are prevalent in developing countries, such as the incidence of Burkitt Lymphoma, which is highest in tropical areas of Africa and New Guinea, and it is strongly associated with the Epstein-Barr virus and malaria. Some childhood cancers, like Wilms tumor and Ewing sarcoma vary largely along ethnic lines, which clearly show that genetics play a role. Other cancers are found to be more prevalent in less affluent populations, and may be associated with poor living conditions.
All of these clues can help researchers looking for cures, and each discovery can benefit children. But where’s the data? Nowhere to be found.
Follow-up care is for life
I think the hardest part about childhood cancer is the follow up care. It lasts for the entire lifetime of that child. Imagine, having to constantly look over your shoulder, wondering if cancer is still in remission or has showed up. Annual check-ups will literally be a nightmare.
These children may also have to deal with complications arising from their treatment years down the line. Dishearteningly, about 30 percent will develop secondary cancers as a result of the intensive treatments 10 to 15 years later, according to research published in Paediatric Blood & Cancer.
These are some facts about this snatcher of some children’s childhood. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do, or not do, to prevent childhood cancer. So, as parents, we can only endeavour to do the best for our children, and ask that God show mercy.
And to all the mamas having to deal with childhood cancer, we see you…we pray for you!
Join the conversation with any of our TTC and Pregnancy Groups here