Children diagnosed with cancer

I mentioned in a previous post, that one of the saddest and most heartbreaking scenes I have ever witnessed was walking down the hallway of the cancer treatment hospital where I had my initial chemotherapy treatments and surgeries.  What I saw that broke my heart were the many children undergoing cancer treatment.  You wouldn’t be human if your heart didn’t break looking at the many children smiling with their bald heads.  Actually, not all of them were smiling; some were crying or looked very frightened.  I could also see the pain on the faces of their parents although they were trying to look brave and strong for their children.

I have five grown children, fortunately none of them were ever diagnosed with this horrible disease.  However, I often wondered how I would respond if one of my children had been diagnosed with cancer.  Today, I worry that it may happen to one of my grandchildren.  I try to push those thoughts out of my mind when they creep in.  I try to think of positive things about children with cancer.  And there are some good things:

Almost 80 percent of children diagnosed with cancer survive it.

I have been critical of many of today’s cancer treatments and the doctor’s motivation for prescribing some treatments.  In spite of that, medical treatment for cancer has come a long way over the years.  It used to be that almost any diagnosis of cancer was an automatic death sentence.  That’s no longer true.  Today there are many people, like myself, who have survived Stage IV cancer.

Over the past 20 years, there has been some increase in the incidence of children diagnosed with all forms of invasive cancer, from 11.5 cases per 100,000 children in 1975 to 14.8 per 100,000 children in 2004. During this same time, however, death rates declined dramatically and 5-year survival rates increased for most childhood cancers.  Source: Cancer.Gov

Late Effects for children diagnosed with cancer

Above, I pointed out the good news concerning children diagnosed with cancer.  Unfortunately, there is also some bad news.  Late side effects can crop up months, or even years after cancer has been treated.  If parents  are not aware of these delayed possibilities, they might not connect the symptoms or developments with the cancer treatment.  As a result, a seemingly insignificant health problem could become a life-threatening problem.  Parents need to be aware of these things and be prepared.

Parents need to be informed and proactive.

You are your child’s primary caregiver.  Even when your children grow up (do they ever?) 🙂 and have families of their own; you are still their parent.  From the moment your child is diagnosed with cancer, you should keep a journal.  From the first diagnosis keep a pencil and notebook, or even a small voice recorder with you and record everything.  This will help you during your child’s treatment.  More importantly, you will have an accurate and detailed record for the future.  That could be extremely important.

Be Open And Honest

Be honest with yourself, your family and most importantly with your child. The knowledge you have acquired regarding late side effects will help your child lead a full, healthy and productive life.

From the very beginning, immediately following your child’s diagnosis,  maintain a healthy way of living for your entire family .  A healthy diet throughout and following treatment will help minimize side effects,  boost energy, improve moods, increase self-esteem and fuel the immune system.

Following your child’s treatment, get together all the basic information for your child’s continued care.  A copy of that entire file should be given to your child.  Not just the medical but a record of your own fears and tears.  That journal could some day be one of child’s most prized posessions.

School Difficulties For The Child Cancer Survivor

You should be aware that, as a result of  the cancer and/or the treatment, your child may have difficulty in school.  Schedule a meeting with the school administrators, teachers and guidance counselors to confer about your child’s requirements and health issues. Discuss with them about learning problems such as chemobrain (Yes, that’s a real medical condition),  resulting from chemotherapy. You may consider having your child take a neuropsychological evaluation.  remember, knowledge is power and prevention is still the best medicine.

Be aware that transitioning to “normal life” after treatment ends may bring about fear, anxiety and stress.

“It is critical that childhood cancer survivors receive accurate and current information about late effects,”  Stacia Wagner, a National Children’s Cancer Society (N.C.C.S.) survivorship specialist and cancer survivor.

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