LatinaLista — Priscilla was a soft-spoken, slender 12-year-old whose porcelain skin, dark brown eyes and cafe colored curls cascaded around her face when she let it dry naturally. For being the only girl and the baby of three children, she was surprisingly void of the usual characteristics of children of her birth order” namely, she was unspoiled and sharing and cooperative, with even her brothers.
She was a member of her school’s drill team, was quick to make friends and was just discovering that boys could actually be cool. All in all, she was the perfect daughter â€” and niece.
Wristbands, inscribed with the words “Always Have Hope,” are offered by BrainTumorLife to elevate awareness of childhood cancer.
That’s why when my sister-in-law noticed that Prissy would be walking along and suddenly trip over her own feet, something rang a bell. Come to find out, Prissy had brain cancer.
In a matter of months, this slender, doe-eyed girl transformed into a bloated little body with a bald head, unrecognizable from her former athletic self, and confined to a wheelchair.
There were months of painful treatments, surgeries and long stays at the local children’s hospital where everyone, from the nurses and counselors to the cleaning people, knew Prissy.
That was about 16 years ago and the pain of watching the transformation of a healthy, energetic young girl into one losing a battle against something that no one could help her with haunts every member of the family to this day.
Thankfully, there is some good news — the number of children who are cured from cancer goes up every year because of new treatments. In fact, it’s said that up to 75% of children are cured of cancer.
This month is a time to remember Prissy and all the other children who have battled and are battling childhood cancers. It is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
A little known fact about those children who are lucky enough to survive childhood cancer is that for the most of them, the hardest battles are yet to come.
According to the Candlelighters: Childhood Cancer Foundation, all that surgery, radiation and chemotherapy that children must undergo to give them a fighting chance against the cancer takes its toll on their growing bodies and developing minds.
Children who survive their initial battles against the cancer have an eleven times higher mortality rate than the general population.
Some examples of late effects after cure from childhood cancer are:
Breast cancer at an early age in female Hodgkin’s survivors who received radiation to their chest when children or adolescents. Their risk is about 15 to 20 times that of their peers who have not had Hodgkin’s disease.
Heart disease after treatment with chemotherapy (anthracyclines) or high-dose chest radiation.
Learning disabilities in survivors treated with radiation and/or chemotherapy to the brain.
Second cancers related to chemotherapy drugs or radiation used to cure the first cancer. Survivorâ€™s risk is over 6 times that of their peers who have not had childhood cancer.
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress syndrome in survivors and their parents.
Infection with the hepatitis C virus in survivors who received transfusions prior to 1992.
Once a child’s cancer is cured, both parents and children are loathe to spend anymore time in a hospital or doctors’ offices and that’s natural. Yet, it’s exactly what these families need to do.
Unfortunately, it’s reported that not very many oncologists even know about these late effects after cancer and the second time around families are left on their own to help their children in one more battle.
As is always the case, information is key to empowering and overcoming.
Too bad it can’t ease the pain of losing or seeing your child suffer the kind of pain that makes most adults cry.