Pediatric Cancer is a generic term for all types of Cancers that impact kids (under the age of 18). Cancer is not just one disease, but a large group of almost 100 diseases. Its two main characteristics are uncontrolled growth of the cells in the human body and the ability of these cells to migrate from the original site and spread to distant sites.
Finding out that your child has cancer can be the start of an uncertain and difficult time for families. The loss of a child to cancer is one of the worst tragedies a family can face. Each death means the loss of an entire lifetime.
Our bodies are made up of millions of tiny cells. They all have different jobs to do and they are busy dividing (splitting into two), making more new cells to do their job,new skin cells take the place of old skin cells, which are rubbed off the skin’s surface when they die.
Usually new cells are made as they are needed in each part of the body. Inside each cell are chemicals that give the signals for making new cells or stopping making new cells.
Cancer forms when…
- the cells get their messages mixed up so that cells are made which are not normal cells, or
- the cells don’t get a message to stop making new cells, so too many cells are made.
That is when a tumor forms.
- Some tumors are benign (say bee-nine). Too many new cells are made but they don’t spread anywhere else.
- The other kind of tumor is malignant (say mal-ig-nant), and this is the cancer that grows too much in one area and can spread to other areas of the body.
Each year around 13,500 children are diagnosed with cancer in the US, that’s more than a classroom of kids a day.
35,000 children are currently in treatment for cancer.
Some 25% of all kids who are diagnosed with cancer die.
More children die of cancer every year than adults died in 9/11.
Cancer kills more children than AIDs, asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and congenital anomalies combined.
The average age of death for a child with cancer is 8, causing a child to lose 69 years of expected life.
The death of a child is one of the most traumatic events a family might face.
Watching your child grow and move forward through developmental milestones—learning to sit, to crawl, to take the first tottering step—is a joyful process for any parent. How frightening, then, to watch your child suddenly seem to “grow backwards.” That is what Kyle and Jamekka experienced when their two-year-old son Alijah stopped walking.
“He just started crawling again,” recalls Jamekka. “He would go for four or five days crawling with his foot up in the air like it was hurting. Then he’d walk for a few days then go back to crawling. Sometimes his right ankle hurt, sometimes his left, sometimes it was his wrist. We thought something might have happened at daycare…” But that turned out not to be so.
Soon, Alijah started running a high fever at night and Jamekka took her son to the family’s regular pediatrician. After repeated visits, with tests and x-rays coming back negative, the pediatrician referred Alijah to a rheumatologist, suspecting his mysterious pains might be a sign of rheumatoid arthritis. Once again scans and tests showed no problems. Alijah definitely did not have RA.
However, the rheumatologist thought Alijah should be seen by a hematologist. She was concerned that a blood disorder might be causing his symptoms. She referred the family to University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital.
The next day, doctors diagnosed Alijah with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) after performing a bone marrow biopsy and finding leukemia cells in his marrow.
Coincidentally, Alijah’s cousin was at this hospital at the same time, being treated for a heart problem; so, many of Alijah’s relatives were present when doctors break the news of Alijah’s diagnosis. Alijah was lucky to this extent: Though it was once almost always fatal, ALL is now a very treatable disease. Thanks to research like that sponsored by Children’s Cancer Research Fund, today more than 80 percent of children with ALL are cured.
Alijah started treatment immediately. The medical team inserted a “port” in his chest through which he would receive chemotherapy drugs. A physical therapist coached Alijah’s parents about ways to get Alijah walking again. The family began the long journey, marked by terrors and triumphs that is cancer treatment.
Today, this little boy who once seemed to be growing backwards is now quite advanced. He’s a high-spirited one with a precocious interest in golf. “If there’s a good thing in all of this,” says Jamekka, “it’s watching Alijah grow up. He is a brave kid and we admire him so much. We figure the rest of our life is pretty simple. When we look at what Alijah has done and how he has stood up to this we know that we’ll be able to handle whatever comes.”
Continued, unexplained weight loss
Headaches with vomiting in the morning
Increased swelling or persistent pain in bones or joint
Lump or mass in abdomen, neck, or elsewhere
Development of a whitish appearance in the pupil of the eye
Recurrent fevers not due to infections
Excessive bruising or bleeding
Recurrent fevers not due to infections
Excessive bruising or bleeding
Noticeable paleness or prolonged tiredness
Cody Wetzel, Burkitt’s Lymphona
“Ask the nurses, they’ll remember me,” says 18-year-old Cody Wetzel. “I never stayed in my room and I always got into trouble. As far as I was concerned, my IV pole was a skateboard — and you know that stuff, Gak? Well, one time another patient and I smeared it all over the nurses’ station. Yeah, they’ll remember me.”
Today Cody is proud to say that he has been cancer-free for 10 years. Diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma in 1994 at age 7, he didn’t really understand the seriousness of his illness and often put up a fuss about taking his medicine. “Then one day my dad took me into a room and talked to me privately. He told me that if I didn’t take my medicine, I was going to die. He still says that was the hardest thing he’s ever done,” Cody says.
After that talk with his dad, Cody developed an attitude that he still has today. “In tough times, stay focused on the positive,” he says.
These days, Cody is a long way from MD Anderson, but he still remembers his time spent in the hospital and the three types of chemo he took. Art classes with the Children’s Art Project were a highlight of his days there and he has made his mark in art project history with eight greeting cards of his design.
The things he learned during his cancer experience have led Cody to an interest in medicine as a future. In the meantime, Cody’s interest in music, especially playing the guitar, keeps him busy.
Childhood cancers are quite different from cancers affecting adults.
They tend to occur in different parts of the body, they look different under the microscope and they respond differently to treatment.
Leukemia… a form of cancer that affects the bone marrow and tissues which produce circulating blood cells, and is the most common of all childhood cancers. The different types of Leukemia that affect children include the following:
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia….the most common childhood cancer. Nearly 75% of children with leukemia have Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, which is a cancer of the lymphoid cells within the bone marrow and the lymphoid organs of the body; all of which are involved in the body’s immune system.
Acute Myelogenous Leukemia…. is also known as Acute Nonlymphatic Leukemia, and is a cancer of the myeloid blood cells. Myeloid blood cells are produced in bone marrow and help in fighting off bacterial infections.
Cancers of the Central Nervous System
Brain tumors…. Gliomas are the most common forms of Brain Tumors, although there are many forms of them.
Neuroblastoma….. a form of cancer of the sympathetic nervous system. This form of cancer usually starts in the adrenal glands which are seated above the kidney.
Sarcomas…. are tumors which are cancerous and involve bones and soft tissues.
Osteosarcoma….Osteomas are Bone Sarcomas, and are the most common type of bone sarcoma. Tumors are many times found growing at the end of long bones of the extremities near the joints.
Ewings Sarcoma…. a form of bone cancer that many times appears in the middle of a bone. This form of cancer is usually found in the middle of bones in the thighs, upper arms, hip bones, and ribs.
Soft Tissue Sarcomas
Rhabdomyosarcoma…. a form of soft tissue sarcoma which forms in the muscles and are usually found in the legs, arms, bladder, kidneys, neck or head of a person.
Lymphomas are tumors in the lymph tissues, parts of the human immune system. The different types of Lymphoma include:
Hodgkin Disease or Hodgkin’s Lymphoma…a form of cancer that affects the lymph nodes closer to the body’s surface. These lymph nodes are found in the neck, armpits, and in the groin area.
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma….a form of cancer that affects lymph nodes which are found deep within the body. These Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma are of varying types and include Burkitt’s, non-Burkitt’s, and lymphoblastic lymphoma.
A tumor, or abnormal growth in the liver, is known as Liver Cancer. There are some common forms of Liver Cancer in children and they include Hepatoblastomas and Hepatocellular Carcinomas.
Cancers of the Kidney
There are also cancers of the Kidney which affect children, and different forms of them. The forms of Kidney cancer that affect children include Wilms Tumor, or,’Nephroblastoma,’ and Clear Cell Sarcoma.
Other Types of Cancers
Retinoblastoma… Retinoblastoma is a form of malignant cancer that affects the retina in the eye of a child. The retina is a thin membrane in the back of the eye.
Germ Cell Tumors…. Germ cell tumors usually show up in the testes of boys, the ovaries of girls, and in the bottom of the spine. Germ cell tumors may also appear in the middle of the brain, in the chest, or in the abdomen.
In the summer of 1999, Emma was a toddler with a cough that prompted parents Angie and Shaughn to bring her to the doctor. A chest x-ray revealed a tennis ball-sized tumor. The family went straight from the radiologist to the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital, Fairview.
There, the family met Joseph Neglia M.D. for the first time. “He came into our room and he sat down and leaned back and got comfortable. I knew right away that he was going to be there for six hours if I needed him to,” Angie says.
Nevertheless, the first night was difficult. As parents of a critically ill child, “you sometimes go back and forth on who’s having the harder time,” Angie says. “Shaughn was really having a hard time that night. I told him, there are parents, right now, who have lost their child, and they would give anything in the world to be where we are right now. We have Emma, she’s right here. That was what we both focused on after that.”
A symbol of hope
During Emma’s hospital stay, she underwent surgery to remove the mass, then three rounds of outpatient chemotherapy. Today, Emma is a cancer survivor who loves basketball and music. She plays the clarinet in the school band and is also learning to play her sister’s trumpet. She also wants to start piano lessons.
Everyone knows that doctors are really important when a kid has cancer. But did you know that friends are really important, too?
If your friend has cancer, there’s a lot you can do to help. Being sick can make a person feel alone, especially if he or she is in the hospital or missing a lot of school. Your friend needs you. The most important thing you can do is visit and stay in touch.
Talk with your child about going back to school and about being ready for questions classmates may have about the cancer. Explain to your child that friends may not understand much about cancer and might say and ask some strange things. Some typical questions are: “What is cancer?”, “Are you going to die?”, “Can I catch it?”, and “Can you still play?” Talk with your child about how to answer each of these questions. It may help younger children if a nurse or teacher explains to the class that cancer is not contagious and no one did anything to cause it.
Some children are happy to know that they can respond to many questions without a long explanation. For instance, they may say:
- Thanks for asking, but it’s kind of hard to talk about this at school.
- I don’t know the answer to that question.
- Maybe you can ask the teacher or the nurse about that.
Depending on the situation, the child might want to use one of these answers then change the subject in a friendly way, maybe with talk about school, an offer to play, or another non-cancer-related topic.
Some teens may want to know where they can go to take a break at school or get special support if they need it. Others might not want to seem different from their friends, so they don’t want to do anything that singles them out. As with younger children, it helps for teens to talk with a parent or counselor about answering questions in a way that feels right for them. Some may choose not to talk about their cancer at school. Others may want to be ready with quick and easy answers for common questions or comments.
Every child has their own coping style. Helping them figure out what feels best for them before they go back to school will help them deal with questions from friends and classmates in a way that feels OK to them.
What Cancer Cannot Do
Cancer is so limited….
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot eat away peace.
It cannot destroy confidence.
It cannot kill friendship.
It cannot shut out memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot reduce eternal life.
It cannot quench the Spirit.
In 2000, a 4 year old cancer patient named Alexandra “Alex” Scott announced a seemingly simple idea -she was holding a lemonade stand to raise money to help “her doctors” find a cure for kids with cancer. The idea was put into action by Alex and her older brother, Patrick, when they set up the first “Alex’s Lemonade Stand for Childhood Cancer” on their front lawn in July of 2000.
For the next four years, despite her deteriorating health, Alex held an annual lemonade stand to raise money for childhood cancer research. Following her inspirational example, thousands of lemonade stands and other fundraising events have been held across the country by children, schools, businesses, and organizations, all to benefit Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for childhood cancer. On August 1st, 2004, Alex died peacefully at the age of 8 — she had raised over $1 million for childhood cancer research in her short lifetime.
Alex’s spirited determination to raise awareness and money for all childhood cancer while she bravely fought her own deadly battle with cancer has inspired thousands of people, from all walks of life to raise money and give to her cause. Alex’s family and supporters are committed to continuing her inspiring legacy through Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, a registered 501c3 charity. As of June 2008, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation has raised over $19 million for childhood cancer research. The result — Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation has given millions of dollars for childhood cancer research across the country!
Getting involved with Alex’s Lemonade Stand is easy and fun! Alex lived her life with energy and enthusiasm. Her legacy is a foundation that strives to not only fund pediatric cancer research, but also to carry on Alex’s unwavering love for life.
Click Below To Find Out More……
This book is a perfect example of the saying, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ It is beautifully written, with a clear purpose and message. All children today should follow Alex’s example.
Treating children is different from treating adults. It is best for a child to get treatment at a hospital or treatment center where many children have been treated for cancer. Today, most children with cancer are treated at specialized centers designed for children.
These children’s cancer centers are often members of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG). All of these centers are linked to a university and most are connected with a children’s hospital.
Going to a hospital that specializes in treating childhood cancer helps ensure that a child gets the best available cancer treatment.
Additional Websites on Types of Childhood Cancers
St. Jude Research Hospital….Disease descriptions and treatment options.
Children’s Oncology Group…..COG’S Public website with information about childhood cancers and treatment.
American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO)
Toll-free number: 1-855-858-2226
CureSearch National Childhood Cancer Foundation (NCCF)
Toll-free number: 1-800-458-6223
Web site: www.curesearch.org
Cancer.net/patient/Coping Cancer information from the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Online, choose “Age-specific information,” then either “teens” or “children” to find more about coping with cancer in children or adolescents.
Sending Lots Of Hugs,
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