Unfortunately children are not immune from cancer. It is always a tragedy when a child is struck by cancer, and most times the parents are totally unprepared for what dealing with their child’s illness will entail.
The information contained in this series of articles is not meant to be medical advice, but a guide that may help you as a parent of a newly diagnosed child with cancer cope just a bit better. Information is knowledge, and never more so than when you are dealing with childhood cancer!
These articles are meant to help you be the key part of your child’s treatment that you will need to be. Take what works for you according to your situation and your child’s temperament, personality, fears, strengths, and how they deal with adversity, and leave what does not pertain to your situation.
More children are surviving childhood cancer as more research is done and more effective treatments and drugs are being discovered. Survival into adulthood has increased a lot in the past 30 years. Along with better drugs and treatment there are also better meds to deal with the side-effects of treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Many individuals who had cancer as a child are now living cancer-free, quality lives as adults.
Cancer is a serious disease, and one that not only affects the child with cancer but the whole family. It is important however, that you realise that you are not alone in this; there is help available on many fronts, and it is important that you avail yourself of it. Your first line of help and information is the cancer team that will take care of your child; doctors, dietitians, oncology nurses, radiation specialists, therapists, and social workers.
There are also various cancer organisations, mostly non-profits, support groups and your community, family and friends. It is important that you ask for help when you need it and take it when offered; you will need all your strength and wits to deal with a sick child.
What is Cancer?
Cancer is a group of various related diseases that form and grow in the body’s cells. Cells normally grow and divide to produce more cells only as the body has need of them, and this process keeps the human body in prime health. Sometimes, however, something goes wrong and the cells divide and make new cells that are not needed; these cells then form into mass of tissue called a tumour or growth. These tumours can either be Benign or Malignant
- Benign Tumours are not cancerous. In most cases, benign tumours can be removed and do not regrow. Cells from benign tumours do not spread to other parts of the body. Benign tumours are rarely life-threatening.
- Malignant Tumours are cancerous. The cells in malignant tumours are abnormal in that they divide without any order or control, and they can invade and damage nearby organs and tissues. Smaller cancerous cells can also break off of a malignant tumour and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system, which is how the original cancer spreads to new sites. Cancer that has spread is called metastatic cancer.
Most cancers are named for the type of cell or organ in which they originate. Cancer that spreads (metastasises) often do so to nearby or sectional lymph nodes (lymph glands). Once the cancer has reached the lymph glands it is very likely that it has spread to other organs such as the brain liver or bones.
When a cancer spreads to another part of the body, the new tumour will have exactly the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary tumour. For instance, when lung cancer spreads to the brain, the new cancer is known as “metastatic lung cancer” not brain cancer, because the cancer cells in the brain are actually lung cancer cells not brain cancer cells.
Children can get cancer in all the same organs of the body as adults, but there are certain types of cancer that are far more common in children. The most common type of childhood cancer is leukemia, which is a cancer of the blood. Leukemia develops in the bone marrow, the fatty network of connective tissue that fills the cavities of bones.
The most common childhood cancers are, in no particular order:
- Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia
- Acute Myeloid Leukaemia
- Brain Cancer
- Ewing’s Sarcoma
- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
- Wilms Tumour
Childhood Cancers act differently, respond differently and get treated differently to adult cancers, so it is important that when you read-up about your child’s cancer you do not look at the information for adult cancer. Childhood Cancers often occur suddenly and without warning, and do not always have early warning signs or symptoms. (There is, however, a list of Early Warning Signs that you can look out for and of which you should be aware.)
Part II of this series will deal with “When Your Child is Diagnosed with Cancer”