International Cancer Survivors Day is celebrated globally on the first Sunday of June each year, which will be on the 3rd of June this year. This is a day to celebrate the lives of survivors, give hope to the newly diagnosed and educate communities about the disease. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), around 150 per million children worldwide are diagnosed with cancer before the age of 15. In South Africa 70-80 per children are diagnosed and partly due to lack of knowledge, of those diagnosed most are in late stages, which lead to longer treatment, more disabilities and a lower survival rate. This can drastically improve with more knowledge shared about the disease.
What is cancer? You may wonder. Your body is made up of thousands of cells – about ten trillion actually. Normal ones keep our bodies healthy, these cells grow and divide and stop when they should but sometimes they don’t know when to stop. Cancer is the uncontrollable growth of cells in the body often causing a growth or tumour.
The following are the most common cancers among 13-20-year-olds.
• Leukaemia – is a type of cancer that affects the blood and the bone marrow.
• Lymphoma – there are 2 main groups of lymphomas: Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). In teenagers and young adults (15–24 years old), Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) is treated with chemotherapy whilst Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), may additionally require radiation therapy.
• Brain Tumour – Primary brain tumours which start in the brain is a growth of cells in the brain that multiplies in an abnormal, uncontrollable way. They can also be metastatic from tumours elsewhere in the body.
• Sarcoma – There are two main types of bone cancer in young people – Osteosarcoma and Ewing Sarcoma. Both are pretty rare and usually affect large bones like the thigh bone and the shin bone, but can also affect other bones. Osteosarcoma starts in the cells that make your bones grow. Ewing Sarcoma causes a tumour to grow in your bones or in the soft tissue around your bones.
• Testicular cancer – as the name suggests, even though it mainly occurs in boys around the age of 20, it can often occur during the teen years too.
• Thyroid cancer- It is common for people with thyroid cancer to have few or no symptoms. Thyroid cancers are often diagnosed by routine examination of the neck or are unintentionally found by x-rays or other imaging scans that were performed for other reasons.
According to Childhood Cancer International (CCI), “In the early 1950s, less than 10% of childhood cancer patients survived. Today, for certain kinds of childhood cancers, especially in more developed and high resource countries, 80–90 % of children/adolescents diagnosed with cancer become long-term survivors. In other resource constrained countries, early diagnosis, available and affordable essential medicines, timely and appropriate treatment, supportive networks of care (e.g. Parents’ organisations, cancer support groups) have also improved survivors from a low 5 – 10 % to 20- 30 % or in some cases, all the way up to 60 %.” In South Africa the survival rate is at about 50%.
Although there is much to celebrate; in some cultures survivors and their families face the challenge of stigma and discrimination because they have had childhood cancer. This often makes it difficult for the survivors to resume their lives after the lengthy treatment.
Meet Zhakier Adams a 21 year old who is a childhood cancer survivor from Manenberg, Cape Town. “I was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 13. I remember in 2010 just after the World Cup, I attended Primrose Park Primary School and each class had to work in the garden to plant seeds and water the garden. It was during this class when I first lost balance and couldn’t walk or stand for a few minutes. I didn’t pay much attention at the time. But this occurred endlessly for a few days, to a point where I couldn’t stand or walk at all.
At the same time, my mother fell ill as well. My parents decided that both of us should go to the nearest doctor. The doctor examined me and he picked up all the symptoms of cancer. The doctor gave us a letter to Jooste Hospital for blood tests. That evening the doctor at Jooste hospital called my father, informing him to immediately take me to Red Cross Hospital.
I was admitted to the hospital and while waiting for a doctor to attend to me, I passed out and woke up in ICU. I woke up and saw my mother crying and still didn’t know what was wrong with me. But my parents knew. Thereafter, I was in and out of the hospital for months. I went through all kinds of treatments; radiation therapy, chemotherapy, x-rays and blood transfusion for 3 long years.
It was during this time that my family and I met CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation. I did not stay at a CHOC House because I lived near to the hospital, but CHOC supported my family emotionally, we received care bags, transport funds, food parcels and all the support that they offer to families and kids in the wards at Red Cross Hospital.
During the time I was on treatment, I attended camps with other kids that also had cancer. The camp was called Just Footprints, and I am now a facilitator at the Just Footprints camp.
I have been in remission for 4 and half years now, and I am first of all very grateful to the almighty, my parents and family and to CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation for supporting me through my journey. I am part of the CHOC survivor/volunteer family and I jump at every opportunity to get involved to support CHOC and children with cancer. ,” shared Zakier.
At CHOC we have a survivor’s group programme called SOLID that not only shares positive life experiences with the newly diagnosed, but also showcases to South Africans that cancer is no longer a death sentence and that indeed there is a continuation of life after childhood cancer.
We have also embarked on a partnership with STA Travel, the global travel agency on a teens project. The purpose of this project is to create cancer awareness with a long term focus on teens and raise funds to ensure that CHOC continuously provides comprehensive support to teenagers with cancer and their families as well as teen survivors. The CHOC STA Travel Teenage Project will raise funds through various campaigns and initiatives, and these funds will specifically be aimed at services and material that benefit teens and survivors. We call on all South Africans to support this initiative and spread the good word. http://www.statravel.co.za/.
For more details on teens cancers you can also visit www. http://choc.org.za/teen/
CHOC is also part of the My School/My village charities and they are asking all South Africans to join in the My School/My Village challenge and vote for CHOC to win a share of R1million. The Vote4Charity polls opened on 18 May 2018 to 18 June 2018. Every vote counts to help raise funds for children with cancer and their families. All you have to do is to visit this link http://www.myschool.co.za/vote4charity and select CHOC as your charity.