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Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

September 12, 2012

September—Remember the Gold Ribbon

By: Nicole Koerth, with introduction by Laura Miller
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Nicole Koerth with Childhood Cancer Awareness Ribbons (Photo by Malaree Gruetzmacher - Hilbert, WI)

We all know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and we see the pink ribbons all over, even during the rest of the year. The increased awareness has done wonderful things to reduce the number of women who die from it, through better education in early detection and more effective treatments. However, Childhood Cancer remains a major issue that has only increased in recent years, and unfortunately, hasn’t seen the amount of awareness that other cancers have. You can read more about the very small percentage of cancer donation money that goes to childhood cancer research here.

The number of children who are diagnosed or die from cancer is alarming, as are the lasting effects for those who survive… please, take a moment and really consider these statistics:

  • One in every 330 Americans develops cancer before the age of twenty.
  • Every day 36 children are diagnosed with cancer.
  • The causes of most childhood cancers are unknown. At present, childhood cancer cannot be prevented.
  • 1 in 4 children diagnosed with cancer will die
  • The average age of death for a child with cancer is 8, causing a child to lose 69 years of expected life.

If a child manages to beat those terrible odds, they still face all kinds of other battles including:

  • 74% of childhood cancer survivors have chronic illnesses, and some 40% of childhood cancer survivors have severe illnesses or die from such illnesses.
  • Radiation to a child’s brain can significantly damage cognitive function, or if radiation is given at a very young age, limit the ability to read, do basic math, tell time or even talk.
  • Cancer treatments can affect a child’s growth, fertility, and endocrine system. Child survivors may be permanently immunologically suppressed.
  • Survivors face the possibility of avascular necrosis (AVN), where the blood flow to some bones may be disrupted and cause the bone tissue to die and collapse. This can cause pain and lead to procedures to attempt to repair the damage.
  • Childhood cancer survivors have difficulty getting married and obtaining jobs, health and life insurance.

These statistics and more can be found online at Alex’s Lemonade Stand and People Against Childhood Cancer.

Considering those statistics, we can see why there aren’t many of us who don’t know a child with cancer. I’m very sad to be one of those who does know a young person who had cancer. My cousin Nicole was diagnosed with Leukemia three years ago on September 1, when she was 12. She completed treatment at the end of 2011 and today she is 15, attending high school, and is counting herself as one of the lucky ones, especially since many of the friends she met through treatment have passed away.

A cancer diagnosis is devastating to everyone who knows that person. Today we have an opportunity to hear from Nicole herself about what it was like to be a child diagnosed with cancer, as she shares a memoir she wrote for a school assignment one month after her diagnosis.


The Beginning of the Climb of My Life

By Nicole Koerth

“They saw some abnormal cells in Nicole's bone marrow biopsy, and they were leukemic.” Those were the words that came out of Dr. Hill's pale lips. But in other words, I had cancer.

We were sitting in the one person hospital room. My mom, dad, Dr. Hill, and I that was. My father was sitting in a big brownish recliner chair, and my mother was sitting on the purple patterned couch. Dr Hill sat on the unconformable desk chair, while I got the awesome hospital bed. The test results of my bone marrow biopsy had come back, and they found leukemia cells growing. The hospital bed didn't seem so awesome anymore.

It felt like the whole world had stopped. My parents' eyes filled with tears, and started to leak out, down, onto their cheeks. My father's face became pale and stone-like. His face showed no emotion, except worry in his eyes.

My mother became very hot, and her face was pale as a ghost. She closed her eyes and when she opened them, tears trickled down her cheeks.

“Is this really happening?” Those were the next four words that came out of her pale, dry lips.

Dr. Hill replied, “Unfortunately. And the best way to handle this, is to start treatment right away.” He looked from my mom, who was crouched over with her elbows resting on her knees, to my dad whose teary eyes were staring at me.

Then Dr. Hill looked at me. By this point, I didn't know what to think.

So, I sat there half listening to the conversation. My parents and Dr. Hill were carrying on, them asking questions, and Dr. Hill answering. My hand was occupied with coloring, but my mind was racing with questions. What's going to happen to me? Am I going to die? Will they be able to get this out of my body? So many other questions filtered into my brain. It felt like my head was going to explode.

When Dr. Hill first said those words, we were all in shock. No doubt about it. The fear in our stomach rose; like a volcano about to explode. My heart started to pound, like a hammer, pounding in nails.

I was frightened. This was cancer. It could kill me. It was getting harder to color because the markers kept sliding down my hands.

My mom kept shifting positions.

“I feel like I'm going to pass out,” She said, and cut Dr. Hill off from what he was saying.

“Lay down on the couch instead of sitting up,” he suggested. Then, we all watched her take off her copper glasses, and rest her blonde hair on the hard hospital pillow.

“Okay,” my mom said, “I think you can continue.” Her eyes were blank and she was starring at one spot on the other wall. This must have helped her calm down a little bit because she started to get some color back in her face.

Dr. Hill was using big words that I didn't understand. I was questioning if he even had the right results. He could be wrong, couldn't he?

I was starting to get frustrated with him. He came into my hospital room, told my family I had had cancer, and now he was dumping all this information on us. We would probably forget most of it in an hour anyway.

By the time Dr. Hill left, I was just plain annoyed. I was annoyed with him. I was annoyed with crying. I was annoyed with all the information he gave us. It felt like I was just plain annoyed with the world.

Well imagine if someone came up to you and told YOU you had cancer. What would you be thinking then?

Even though it has only been a month since I got diagnosed, I feel like I have learned so much. Not just in the medical field, but about my faith in God too.

I finished Induction on September 30th and I am starting Consolidation on October 7th. Those are two of the phases that I have to go through. There are 5 phases total. I'm excited and a little nervous to start the next phase.

For the next phase I am going to be hospitalized for three days. They have to monitor me closely for a new chemotherapy drug they're going to give me.

So basically, I have two and a half long years of treatment ahead of me. There is a mountain in my life that I have to climb over; but I have lots of help, from friends and family, so I know I'm not in it alone. They will climb right by my side, through anything. I know it! 

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