CATES: September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Carol A. Cates, MSN, MBA, RN, is the Chief Nurse of the Odessa Regional Medical Center. You can reach you by e-mail at: [email protected]

I went to Montana a few weeks ago for a memorial service for one of my uncles. One of the things I do when I go to visit my family in Montana is visit the family grave in Churchill cemetery. As I walk through the cemetery, there are a few graves where I always stop to pay my respects. One is my grandparents, and the others are all my aunts and uncles. There are 5 small headstones near my grandparents for several of those aunts and uncles. Those 5 headstones are for aunts and uncles that I never got to meet because they all died as little children. I think of those 5 headstones every time I teach or write about illnesses or conditions our babies take before they have a chance to grow up, or worse, care for a patient and family struggling to cope with a chronic childhood illness. to fight. Childhood cancer is one of those diseases.

Medical care in the 1920s to 1940s, when my grandparents lost their babies, was very different from today. For example, one of my aunts died of croup when she was 18 months old. Today, we don’t even think of croup as something serious. The reason we don’t consider it serious is because we now have antibiotics. Antibiotics didn’t exist when my aunt died of croup, they were introduced to the public about 5 years later. Childhood cancer is like that. Not so long ago, childhood cancer was almost always a death sentence. Less than 20% of children survived cancer in the early 1960s. But that has radically changed, now about 80% of children in the US survive cancer. But even at 80%, we still have a long way to go in the fight against childhood cancer. I hope that soon we will look at childhood cancer the way we look at croup now, something small that a few days of treatment will resolve. Even for surviving children, cancer treatment is often painful and difficult. We can make this better for every child who gets cancer.

However, to get there, we need to get behind the science of childhood cancer treatment. That starts with awareness. That is why September has been declared Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Part of that awareness is supporting funding for childhood cancer research programs. A well-known example of a children’s hospital that participates strongly in pediatric cancer research is St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. That hospital needs about $2.2 million each day to operate. That is not only for research, but also for healthcare, but that still comes with a hefty price tag. The costs are also reflected in the global statistics. According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO), the 5-year survival rate for children with cancer in high-income countries is 80%, but the 5-year survival rate for children with cancer in low-income countries is less than 8%. In other words, children in high-income countries are more than 10 times more likely to survive cancer than children in low-income countries. Due to health differences between rich countries and poor countries, 44% of children who die from cancer are diagnosed. There just aren’t the resources like hospitals, doctors, and tests to diagnose childhood cancer, let alone treat it in many parts of the world. As with the technology in your home, the costs come down as the treatments progress. Awareness benefits everyone.

Even in high-income countries, childhood cancer still takes a terrible toll. Childhood cancer is the leading cause of death from childhood illness in the US, and 1 in 285 children will be diagnosed with cancer before their 20th birthday. Awareness is important because childhood cancers are often more aggressive than adult cancers, and like adult cancers, the earlier they are diagnosed, the more likely treatment will be successful. The most common cancers in children are bone cancer, brain and brain stem cancer, leukemia, liver cancer, lymphomas, nerve cancer, eye cancer, rhabdoid (muscle) tumors, soft tissue cancer, spinal cord tumors and Wilms tumors, a special type of kidney cancer. The ACCO website has a lot of information about childhood cancer symptoms and diagnosis www.acco.org. If you’re concerned that your child has these symptoms, talk to your doctor.

In September, remember the children suffering from childhood cancer and keep them in your thoughts and prayers. Please support childhood cancer research with your words, and if you can, with your wallet. Every person in this fight makes a big difference.

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