An opportunity to talk openly about cancer in children and to raise awareness and find ways to support children live with and beyond cancer.
I will take you on a time machine, back in September 1999. I was just about to start as a first-year student in medical school and I accompanied my mother to a 3 day trip with children with cancer on remission and their families. This trip, through observations and interaction with children and their families set the scenes for me as a doctor. What I observed was that despite the diagnosis and having been through a difficult treatment, children are resilient. They would play and enjoy. They would communicate, engage, and dream about their future.
I remember me asking a boy what he wanted to be when he grew older. He looked at me and said “I want to marry you and become your husband”. Aside this being my first wedding proposal of serious consideration…I discovered how much will power, motivation and resilience children have. Cancer does not and should not define them.
I also remember the feeling of community How supportive families where between them. This “human centric” journey oozed empathy, compassion, and resilience and supported even stronger my decision to become an oncologist.
Undoubtedly, cancer is a devastating diagnosis for people of all walks of life and any age group. However, childhood cancer is special in the way of unique patient needs, but also the needs of the family supporting the child. In our times, treatments have evolved and according to the International Society of Paediatric Oncology(SIOP) nearly 90% of children can be cured. In addition, huge efforts are focused on the level of support for children and their families through the cancer journey, not only by the health and social care sector, but also the third sector: clinical and non-clinical networks are working in synergy to support children and families from diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship. The aim is not only to improve cure rates, but also foster quality of life and support children physically, emotionally, and mentally to grow into a healthy teenagerhood and adulthood.
For all I know we should not let cancer be a barrier a child’s dreams.
What can we do to help?
We can find ways to engage. An idea can be to support a cancer charity for children or organise a funding event. More importantly we should not think of cancer as a taboo. We should talk about it openly, understand more about it, about how it affects children and their families and how we can support children live with and beyond cancer.
Dr Ioanna Nixon, MPH, PhD, FFMLM, FRCR.
Consultant Clinical Oncologist
Executive Coach (leadership, inclusion/diversity and resilience).