Cancer happens when a type of cell loses the control of its operations with other cells and grows in a way that the body cannot regulate. Different cancers have different symptoms, treatments, and outcomes, depending on the type of cell involved and the degree of the uncontrolled cell multiplication. The cells growing out of control ignore their boundaries, destroy their neighbour cells, form abnormal sizes and shapes and can ultimately spread to other organs and tissues. As the cancer cells grow, they demand a lot more of the body’s nutrition. Cancer consumes a child’s strength, and weakens the body’s defenses against other illnesses as it destroys organs and bones.
Some symptoms of childhood cancer
» Constant tiredness or paleness
» Perpetual and unexplained weight loss
» Severe headaches especially in early morning
» More swelling or persistent pains in bones, joints or back
» Lumps or mass, especially in the neck, chest, abdomen, pelvis or armpits
» Increased rashes, bruising, or bleeding
» The child usually has constant infection
» A whitish colour behind the pupil
» Persistent nausea or vomiting without nausea
» Sudden and persistent poor vision
» Recurrent or persistence fevers of unknown origin
» Persistent coughing
» Change in bowel habits
» Streaks of blood in stool
» Unexpected anaemia
» More frequent urination
» You will experience blood in the urine of the child
» Itching in anal or genital areas
Treatment cancer in children can include chemotherapy (using medication to destroy cancer cells), radiation (using radiant energy to kill the notorious cancer cells) and surgery to remove cancerous cells or abnormal growths. The treatment depends on the type of the cancer, it’s severity and the child’s age.
We met a young man, Boniface Kimani Muthoni, a social worker who works with a group of friends that reaches out to children. Boniface has been volunteering at Kenyatta Hospital Cancer Ward 1E for 11 years now and he is trained by the Nairobi Hospice to care for terminally ill patients. He describes his encounter in dealing with children suffering from cancer as challenging. But he believes that children need to be mentored to be the best they can be.
The group has a Facebook page called Mission Uhai which anyone can join. The group is for young people who want to make a difference by helping the less fortunate in society.
Boniface and his group of friends organize blood donation for children with cancer and also makes them smile in many ways by for example, taking the children out of the hospital to the Nairobi National Park, Giraffe Center and Mamba Village.
The group also volunteers to go over to the hospital to play with the children.
‘Most of the kids with cancer are very young and honestly don’t know what they are suffering from. Sometimes even their parents have no idea of the illness their children are suffering. These children come from different parts of the country. I have come to appreciate the work the doctors and nurses do in making sure that parents and kids understand what they are going through,’ he says.
‘Some challenges experienced in taking care of children suffering from cancer include the need to have someone to be there for them everyday. Not many people can stand the pain that they go through. Some children come from various parts of the country so their parents cannot afford to see them each day. The public does not have much information children suffering from cancer, which leads to a lot of misconception and stigmatization towards the children who in turn feel rejected. Lack of blood in the blood bank is also another challenge. Asking people to donate it is sometimes difficult. Cancer treatment is very expensive as well. So if a parent does not have enough resources it can really drain them. He states, ‘For example, there is a boy who passed on almost two months ago. His body is still retained at the hospital because the mother can not afford to pay the bill.’
‘Five years ago a boy named Edward was admitted in the ward. He allegedly lost his hearing due to the treatment he underwent. Recently when I visited the hospital I saw a boy running towards me followed by his mother. He was very excited and eager to greet me. I could not recall him until I was told it was Edward.
He had really grown up. I found out from his mother that he had been discharged sometime back. That made me so glad knowing that regardless of the deaths of many children with cancer there is still hope for them,’ Boniface says.
Adorning compassion and information in place of fear will help kids with cancer cope better with the illness. Diagnosing and treating childhood cancers can take a while. The treatments have both short-term and long-term side effects. Thankfully, more and more kids with cancer are going through successful treatment, getting discharged from hospitals, and growing up to achieve their dreams like other people.