September 14, 2011

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

M during treatment - taken by Aunt Genocide
As you are probably aware, my husband is a survivor of astrocytoma- a very aggressive form of brain cancer.

What you probably don't know, and I what I didn't know when my husband was first diagnosed, is that astrocytoma is the most common kind of childhood brain tumor.

The fact of the matter is that he probably developed the tumors as an adolescent.  He thinks he can pin down the year he began having symptoms- while he was a junior in college.  And if that's the case, he most likely already had some growth before then.

Now, there is nothing that anybody could have done to diagnose him when he was a teenager.  He was fortunate, the tumors were located in places that just plain didn't affect his daily life.  But had they been elsewhere, he might have shown symptoms.

I think about that a lot.  I've talked to so many of his doctors, to our pediatrician, asking the same question, "How likely is it there there is a genetic predisposition to this kind of cancer?"

They all say the same thing. "Probably not very likely."

Photo by Aunt Genocide
And I hate that answer.  It does nothing to ease the worry.

What does ease the worry are the remarkable strides being made in cancer research- particularly in brain cancer research.  What makes me feel a little better is that I am aware, that if I start having any real concerns, seeing any real symptoms, I will be able to advocate for my children and get them the care that they need.

That doesn't make cancer any less scary, particularly childhood cancer, but it is a little peace of mind that I can carry with me.

In that way, I suppose I'm lucky.  I know what to look for, how to keep my eyes open.  I've seen M survive his cancer.  It wasn't easy, and it wasn't fun, but he did.  And for that reason I'm confident that if my children are ever diagnosed, we'll all get through that too.

Not everybody has that confidence.  And most importantly, not everybody knows even the smallest amounts about childhood cancers.

Over 12,000 children are diagnosed with cancer every year.  And there are things that you can do to help.

Photo by Aunt Genocide
First of all, get on the bone marrow donor registry.  Blood cancers are among the most common childhood cancers.  You can save the life of a child, and the registry is always in need of donors.

Second of all, educate yourself about cancer.  We're all so terrified of cancer, nobody seems to go out and seek information.  But the more you know, the more likely you are to catch it before it's too late.  Early detection is crucial- the sooner you get it, the better off you are.  My husband didn't catch his cancer until it had reached stage four, and was essentially inoperable.  His survival is a miracle for which we are grateful every day, but you should never count on chance.  You should be prepared, be aware, and be ready to be strong for your families.

Don't start looking for cancer everywhere, that's not what I'm saying.  But if you DO see something, if you start to worry that something is wrong, investigate.  Personally, I'd rather be out the trouble and money to be sure that my child was fine than to find later that they have a progressed cancer.  Don't bury your head in the sand and tell yourself that things will work themselves out.

Photo by Aunt Genocide
As for me, if my children one day start exhibiting minor neurological symptoms, slight weakness on one side or the other, severe or frequent headaches, or sudden changes in their mood... you can bet I'm marching them to their doctor and demanding an MRI.  Just in case.

Because the sooner you catch it, the better the chance of survival.

So educate yourself.  Learn about common childhood cancers.  Don't be afraid of cancer.  Be afraid of missing cancer.  Cancer is treatable, if you catch it.

Catch it.

And if you can, donate to cancer research.  Join the bone marrow registry.  Visit the pediatric oncology ward at your local hospital.  Children with cancer are still children.  They're scared, and they're isolated.  There are some excellent organizations dedicated to this particular need, including Quilts for Kids.

I doubt there will ever be a future without cancer, but I do see a future with a cure.  Where getting cancer is as serious as getting a nasty flu.  We will beat this awful thing.  It just takes all of us coming together.

Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. When I was in college, my boyfriend's nephew was 5 y/o dignosed with cancer. We went to visit in Atlanta at the Children's Emory Hospital. I'll never forget it! Fabulous hospital filled with hope even with the worse cases.

    Your post reminded me of that day....thank you! And that little boy (the newphew) is alive and well :)



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