Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
September is childhood cancer awareness month, and an opportunity to honour children with cancer and the community that supports them. Events and fundraisers are held throughout the entire month to shine a spotlight on this indiscriminate disease.
Every day, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer. 12% of children diagnosed with cancer do not survive. Children’s cancer affects all ethnic, gender and socio-economic groups. The average age of children diagnosed is six.
Each year, the parents of approximately 15,700 parents will hear the words “your child has cancer”, and every day, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer. This disease affects all ages, although the average age is six years, and all ethnic groups, gender and socio-economics are affected, this disease remains the number one cause of death by disease in children. Despite major advances – from an overall survival rate of 10 percent just fifty years ago to nearly 90 percent today, for many rare cancers, the survival rate is much lower and sadly 12% of children diagnosed with cancer do not survive. Furthermore, the number of diagnosed cases annually has not declined in nearly 20 years. More than 40,000 children undergo treatment for cancer each year, and 60% of children who survive cancer suffer late-effects, such as infertility, heart failure and secondary cancers.
There are three overall kinds of children’s cancer:
- Leukaemia is a cancer of the blood. Leukaemia cells are sick immune blood cells that do not work properly and crowd out healthy blood cells. Leukaemia's are the most common childhood cancers. Types of leukaemia include acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).
- Lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system and lymphoid tissues. The sick cells do not work properly to protect the body and they crowd out healthy cells of the immune system. Types of lymphomas include Hodgkin disease (or Hodgkin lymphoma) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
- A solid tumour is a lump of sick cells stuck together. Tumours can develop in many parts of the body including the brain, kidneys, liver and bones. These sick cells crowd out healthy cells and keep them from doing their job. Types of solid tumour cancers include neuroblastoma, Ewing sarcoma and Wilms tumours.
Eight year old Dylan was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) in January 2015. He is still undergoing treatment. His mum, Lorraine, tells their story so far:
“Dylan was having high temperatures in the evenings. When we took him to the doctor’s, during the day, they could never find anything wrong apart from swollen glands. They gave him a course of antibiotics, but the temperatures continued. Dylan wasn’t himself – I knew something was wrong. Rather than join his brothers playing, he preferred to snuggle on the sofa with me.
When we noticed that Dylan had a swollen wrist my husband and I decided to take him to hospital to get it checked. I explained my worries to the doctor we saw explaining that his symptoms were reflective of an article I had read where the child was diagnosed with cancer. I was completely prepared for the doctor to tell me I was overreacting. But they took me seriously and examined him thoroughly and did blood tests.
I knew it was bad as soon as the doctor asked to speak to us in private. Although cancer had crossed my mind I never believed Dylan had it. We were totally shocked and heartbroken for him. I remember just bursting into tears with my first thought being that he’s going to die. It was very hard since we had six boys ranging from one to 17 years old. We were told that Dylan would have to be kept in hospital for further tests and treatment. I’m disabled and my husband is my carer. We asked my cousin to pick me up, and my mother-in-law to stay over to help me. We had to explain to Dylan he was poorly with bad blood and needed to stay in hospital. He was so upset that I couldn’t stay with him, but accepted that daddy would be with him.
The next couple of weeks went by in a sort of daze. We learnt Dylan had Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and were told what type of treatment he would need. I also had to explain to him that he had cancer – I didn’t want him find out from someone else. I was taken aback when he replied “Am I gonna die?” Of course he’d heard about cancer, and many times it’s associated with death.
I think Dylan’s diagnosis had a huge impact on all of us. Those first few weeks were extremely hard to cope with but we had excellent support from family and friends. Dylan was put on intravenous therapy which took its toll. Every time they poked him he would scream in pain. So he had a port put in to make administering the drugs easier. It was tough seeing him getting prepared for his operation. Dylan was given lumber punctures to test the fluid and to put the chemo in directly. All other chemo was given through his port and up until now that’s how he is accessed for weekly bloods and chemo although he does take oral chemo.
Dylan was also on steroids which saw him balloon up and his mood swings became intense and frequent. That was hard, and is still hard to deal with because it’s not the Dylan we know.
There are constant side effects of all the treatments including mood swings, hair falling out and mouth sores. Any sign of a temperature means he has an infection and has to be admitted to our local hospital, which has happened many times”.
Dylan is in remission, but his family is fully aware that he could relapse at any time. It’s hard to rejoice until all his treatment is over – until that time they are all still walking on egg shells (www.childrenwithcancer.org.uk).
Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is an awareness campaign which stretches worldwide and aims to raise awareness for all types of childhood cancer. Leading childhood cancer charities, including Children with Cancer UK, CLIC Sargent and The Kids Cancer Charity will be working throughout September to raise awareness of childhood cancer, the impact that a diagnosis can have and how their essential work helps young cancer patients and their families.