National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and although survival rates have improved in recent decades, there is still a lot of research needed to eradicate childhood cancers. Florida Mama, Megan Fogg, talked to us about her son, Drew, his recent cancer diagnosis and what people can do to help families like hers.
In 2017, an estimated 10,270 new cancer cases will be diagnosed among children 0 to 14 years of age in the US. Of that total, an estimated 1,190 cancer deaths will occur making childhood cancer the second-leading cause of death in children ages 1-14 years, exceeded only by accidents.
Although survival rates for most childhood cancers have improved in recent decades, the improvement has been especially dramatic for a few cancers, particularly acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), which is the most common childhood cancer. Improved treatments introduced in the 1970s raised the 5-year survival rate for childhood ALL from less than 10 percent in the 1960s to about 90 percent in 2003-2009. Today, according to St. Jude Research Hospital, about 98 percent of children with ALL go into remission within weeks after starting treatment. About 90 percent of those children can be cured.
By contrast, survival rates remain very low for some cancer types, for some age groups, and for some cancers within a site. The cancer mortality rate—the number of deaths due to cancer per 100,000 people per year—among children ages 0 to 19 years declined by more than 50 percent from 1975 to 2010. However, despite the overall decrease in mortality, nearly 2,000 children die of cancer each year in the United States, indicating that new advances and continued research to identify effective treatments are required to further reduce childhood cancer mortality.
South Florida Mama, Megan Fogg, who works at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is a mother of two boys, Drew (5) and Reid (2). Even though she is all too aware of the types of devastating news a parent can receive about their child, she was not prepared for what would happen to her family last spring. On April 19, 2017, Drew started feeling unwell and complaining that his left cheek hurt and that his right arm was really painful. Megan and her husband, Ryan, thought it might be growing pains, but the pain only got worse. They took him to the pediatrician on Friday, April 21 who ran a CBC and didn’t like the look of the numbers or of Drew.
They were sent directly to their local emergency room where additional blood tests were done. It was there that they received the shock of their lives. Drew had cancer. They were quickly admitted to Palm Beach Children’s Hospital and it was confirmed through a series of tests that Drew’s type is Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia B Cell.
His treatment swiftly began and instead of being able to start Kindergarten with the rest of his friends, he has endured months of chemo and is currently in the Delayed Intensification part of his treatment, which will hopefully give Drew the ability to say, “I’m cured.” This stage is brutal in terms of side effects, but necessary to make sure every last cancer cell is gone. Throughout this terrifying experience, Drew has maintained high spirits and at some points, even comforted his family.
Of course, cancer hasn’t just affected Drew’s life. His entire family and friendship circle have dropped what they were doing to join Drew’s Crew. Money has been raised, heads have been shaved, careers have been put on hold, play-dates postponed, school done via webcam, all because cancer does not discriminate. There are also a number of organizations that have been instrumental in Drew’s recovery.
POST – Pediatric Oncology Support Team.
POST provides therapy and support to the entire immediate family and come to every appointment and hospitalization to make sure families have what they need and are mentally okay to endure the battle that cancer makes you fight. Find out more about POST here.
Child Life Specialists
A Child Life Specialist helps educate children with cancer about their diagnosis and the treatments and medications they need to take. They teach explain the gravity of the situation in a way a child can grasp and also educate them on how to swallow pills and find comfort in a hospital setting. Find out more about them here.
Children’s Oncology Group
The Children’s Oncology Group is a remarkable organization that has developed main stream protocols so families don’t have to interview and shop around for medical care. They have a centralized database of research programs and protocols that have proven invaluable to countless families worldwide. Find out more about COG HERE.
The causes of most childhood cancers are not known. According to the National Cancer Institute, about 5 percent of all cancers in children are caused by a genetic mutation that can be passed from parents to their children. In adults, these gene mutations are often the result of exposure to environmental factors, such as cigarette smoke, asbestos, and ultraviolet radiation from the sun. However, environmental causes of childhood cancer have been difficult to identify, partly because cancer in children is rare, and partly because it is difficult to determine what children might have been exposed to early in their development.
The National Cancer Institute reports that many studies have shown that exposure to ionizing radiation can damage DNA, which can lead to the development of childhood leukemia and possibly other cancers. For example, children and adolescents who were exposed to radiation from the World War II atomic bomb blasts had an elevated risk of leukemia, and children and adults who were exposed to radiation from accidents at nuclear power plants had an elevated risk for thyroid cancer. Children whose mothers had x-rays during pregnancy (that is, children who were exposed before birth) and children who were exposed after birth to diagnostic medical radiation from computed tomography scans also have an increased risk of some cancers.
Studies of other possible environmental risk factors, including parental exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, prenatal exposure to pesticides, childhood exposure to common infectious agents, and living near a nuclear power plant, have so far produced mixed results. Whereas some studies have found associations between these factors and risk of some cancers in children, other studies have found no such associations.
What we do know is that the power of research is undeniable, which is why it’s so crucial that we keep working to find funding for organizations like: