A child’s pain. Just the same as that of an adult, except that you can suppress it and a child may not. But the pain, it is the same. I hear parents say, “I wish to have my child’s pain transferred to me instead, because I can bear it”. Wondering why am taking about child pain? Well, today we indulge a bit about cancer in children, otherwise referred to as pediatric cancer.
Cancer is not a foreign word. Before yes. But not now. At least it has not been in the past five years both in Kenya and globally. A deadly disease that comes to rob off happiness and the comfort in a person’s life. But then again, for some warriors, the disease has never been the determinant because there are patients who have so much faith, support and will to push through without letting this thief take ownership.
Celebrated every February 4, this day was organized by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), that saw it as an opportunity to rally the international community to end the injustice of preventable suffering from cancer.
But first things first. What is this cancer? It is a disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body. Every day, it takes away someone and it is hard not to hate it because how can it? Our loved ones? According to Kenya Demographics Survey, the most common cancer in children is lymphoma, whereas in the Western part of the world, leukemia, which is cancer of the blood, is reported high among children.
As per World Health Organization statistics, each year, approximately 300,000 children are diagnosed with cancer. 8 out 10 children get cured in the high income countries, while 2 out of 10 children from middle and low income countries are healed. However, with access to quality care, more than 80% of children with cancer can survive, living full and healthy lives. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cancer-in-children
Dr. Doreen Mutua, a pediatric oncologist at Gertrude’s hospital, says that cancer in children is very different from adults. “Not much of value in screening because childhood cancer is not related to lifestyle,” she says. However, she says there are no specific symptoms for any particular cancer. That is why it is important for parents and caregivers to be keen and open minded when a child is treated for a disease, for example Malaria, but the symptoms are still persisting.
“As parents, care givers and healthcare providers, we need to arm ourselves and look deeply at the symptoms that are common to other diseases, but have persisted for too long. If you treated typhoid and two weeks later the child is still unwell, have that index of suspicion and bring them in for further tests,” Oncologist Doreen explains.
However, general recorded symptoms include; lumps/swellings, unexplained weakness or paleness, easy bruising/nose or gum bleeding, persistent unexplained fever/illness; constant pain; frequent headaches, often with vomiting, sudden eye or vision changes, sudden unexplained weight loss, limping or inability to walk properly. Childhood cancer is curable and especially when detected at an early time. This will enable administration of the right mode of treatment. https://www.roswellpark.org/cancertalk/201209/top-5-pediatric-cancers-warning-signs
“We have three major modes of treatment which is medication commonly known as chemotherapy. Giving drugs to fight the cancer cells. The other is surgery which comes after a biopsy has been done and there is need to have the tumor removed or have arm or leg removed to prevent further spreading of the cancer. And finally, radiotherapy which involves using special x-rays at a certain dosage, which are able to kill bad cells. All to maximize on how much cells we can kill and cure the child of cancer,” Dr. Mutua stresses.
Kenyatta National Hospital has a pediatric cancer unit where according to Kenya Cancer Network, Childhood cancer accounted for 15% of cancer admissions at KNH [1998-2008].
The theme for 2020 is “I can, I will” seeking to acknowledges that everyone has the capacity to address the cancer burden through working together to reduce cancer risk factors, improve cancer control and achieve global targets to reduce premature mortality from cancer.
You wonder what can you do to help? Volunteering to play with the children in the cancer units would make a difference. As a good neighbor, offer to take care of things when Mama Shiro travels with her child for treatment. The other way is through financial support because the treatment is quite expensive and any contributions would stretch a long way. The government can help through investing more in equipment and research so that families can afford to have their patients can receive quality treatment locally and subsidizing cancer medicine.
And before I close shop, I would like to bring to your attention that International Childhood Cancer Awareness day is coming up on February 15. It is marked with the aim of raising awareness and to express support for children and adolescents with cancer, survivors and their families.
If you are reading this article and can relate, or know someone who has been or is in this path, know that You are stronger than cancer, tell him/her that she/he is stronger than this. He/she can and will.You are worthy, you are acknowledged and most importantly you are loved.
By Ann Wambui