How to deal with childhood cancers: Awareness, empathy and support | City Big News

4 months ago 26

Azad Times Desk.

Let us pledge to raise awareness about childhood cancer, because every child deserves the best. Let us pledge to break barriers of misinformation, improve access to care and accurate treatment, and celebrate the hope that these precious children teach us.

By Dr. Vasudha N Rao

“But why did this happen to my child?” – This is the first question that devastated parents ask me when I break the bad news that their child has cancer. This question often heralds the long and intense period of treatment that the child and the family endure over the next few months.

Most often parents end up carrying huge, misplaced guilt when faced with a diagnosis of cancer in their children. Unfortunately, the causation of childhood cancers still does not have a concrete reasoning, despite decades of research. Less than 10% cancers can be due to inherited/hereditary genetic defects, whereas more than 90% of childhood cancers are caused by a random genetic change in a single cell which acquires a limitless replicative potential – in simple terms, the cells do not become old, do not die and continue to produce similar cells, which ultimately lead to a sizeable quantity of cells called a tumour.

Environmental factors or lifestyle factors cannot be implicated in causation of childhood cancers, and because of the same reason most childhood cancers cannot be prevented or screened early.

However, most childhood cancers can be cured. A pity in this statement is that the likelihood of cure is related to the social-economic situation and location of the child. In high-income countries, an excess of 80% children can be cured of cancer. In low- and middle-income countries, this figure is between 30-40%. A recent study by CanKids KidsCan NGO revealed the astounding reality that only a third of children being diagnosed with cancer were reaching hospitals equipped to treat them! This has been an eyeopener and efforts are underway to improve the first, and one of the biggest, problem in childhood cancer: access to care.  

As per WHO estimates, every year, approximately 400,000 children between the age of 0-19 years are diagnosed with cancer, and India contributes to 20% of this global load.

Let us pledge to raise awareness about childhood cancer, because every child deserves the best. Let us pledge to break barriers of misinformation, improve access to care and accurate treatment, and celebrate the hope that these precious children teach us!

How can you help

1. Be aware

Information is the best weapon to fight against any disease, including cancer. Detecting the early signs of childhood cancer. Prolonged fever, bleeding or bruising, loss of weight or appetite, a painless lump in the neck which does not go away for more than 2 weeks, dizziness or loss of balance, white pupils, new-onset squint, visual loss, bruising or swelling around the eye or a severe headache that often wakes up the child are a few red flags and early warning signs that the child may have an underlying cancer.

2. Be empathetic

Despite good cure rates, no parent would ever want their child to go through this tumultuous battle of fighting cancer. Treatment often involves frequent and sometime prolonged hospital visits and the family is often struggling with a completely chaotic schedule. Just lending them a patient ear, offering to cook or offering to take care of the sibling whilst they are in the hospital may be a good start.

Owing to the social stigma associated with a diagnosis of cancer, these families feel isolated in their toughest times and simple gestures like regular phone calls or a heartfelt smile makes them feel a lot better.

3. Be supportive

Parents are often overwhelmed with new responsibilities towards the child suffering from cancer and the sibling tends to take a backseat unintentionally. Siblings often feel lonely, anxious and confused especially with the absence of their parents for long periods of time. Extended family and relatives can help the siblings to a great extent by going them time and reassurance. The schools and teachers are also pivotal in providing not just extra scholastic but emotional support to these kids.

4. Be inclusive

 Children are subject to a lot of stigma not just during treatment of cancer, but also following completion of treatment. With survival rates improving in childhood cancer, we, as a society, need to be mindful that childhood cancer survivors need support to re-integrate into the society. This applies more to adolescents who often feel embarrassed to restart school or college owing to the changes in their physical appearance. Teachers and friends can play a big role to ensure that these children don’t feel isolated. If anything, they deserve respect for the unimaginable ordeal they have been through.

5. Be proactive

There are several ways we can be proactive in supporting children and families going through this battle. September is observed internationally as childhood cancer awareness month and is represented by a gold ribbon. Go GOLD on your FB/Insta page, put awareness posts, run a marathon, donate to the several NGO’s helping this cause – these are just a few ways we can extend support.

Last but not the least these children (and adults) require blood and blood products during their treatment due to the temporary side effects of chemotherapy. Donating blood/platelets can be a great way to give back to the society. 

This article was published in association with Rainbow Children’s Hospital. 

Dr. Vasudha N Rao
Consultant - Pediatric Oncology
Rainbow Children's Hospital, Marathahalli, Bengaluru

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