Looking For Symptoms Of Childhood Cancer
- Anjna Caulton, a mother from England, was told not to worry when her daughter developed “cold-like symptoms.” But after a series of other symptoms arrived, her baby girl was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, is a type of leukemia where the bone marrow makes too many immature lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. It is an aggressive cancer and requires aggressive treatment.
- Here at SurvivorNet, we’re always encouraging people to advocate for themselves when it comes to cancer and, more generally, health care. But when it comes to a child, the parent must become the advocate and make sure any possible signs of cancer are fully and expeditiously addressed.
Anjna Caulton, 44, knew her seven-month-old daughter Mia wasn’t feeling well when she developed “cold-like symptoms,” but everyone tried to reassure her that there was nothing to worry about.Read More
“Within days I noticed quite a lot of bruising on her legs and arms which really panicked me,” she said. “I wondered if I was really stressed and I was holding her too hard whilst changing her nappy, or whether these were from her nursery. Hundreds of terrible thoughts were going through my mind.”
After a visit to the doctor’s office, Mia’s parents were told her blood platelet levels were very low which was leading to the bruises.
“Mia was very pale and these bruises followed with little red dots appearing sporadically over her body,” Caulton said.
Finally, after her third visit with a doctor, she was referred to the hospital where tests later revealed she had a type of blood cancer called acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Little Mia had to stay in the hospital for nine months to receive treatments including lumbar punctures, bone marrow operations, blood transfusions and chemotherapy starting in July 2017. During that time she took her first steps, had her first birthday, said her first words and celebrated her first Christmas and New Year.
“It was the scariest and most uncertain time of my life,” Caulton said. “I looked at this little face, my little girl whom I already love more than anything in the world and wondered whether she would get taken from me. It’s the most unbelievable pain.”
After 18 months of daily hospital visits following her hospital stay, Mia got the all-clear in March 2020.
“Mia rang the bell to mark the end of her treatment in July 2020, exactly 3 years to the date of her diagnosis. It was a very special and emotional day,” her mother said. “We are pleased Mia is doing well. We only have one wish for Mia – that she goes on to live a full and happy life.”
Understanding Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, is a type of leukemia where the bone marrow makes too many immature lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. It is also called acute lymphocytic leukemia.
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 6,660 new cases of ALL will be diagnosed in the United States in 2022. The ACS also reports that the risk for developing ALL is highest in children younger than 5 years of age, with a slow decline in risk until the mid-20s. Then, the risk slowly rises again after age 50.
Dr. Olalekan Oluwole, a hematologist with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, previously talked with SurvivorNet about ALL’s effect on the body and the type of treatments that work to fight it.
“ALL is a type of cancer that is very aggressive,” Dr. Oluwole told SurvivorNet. “It grows very fast. Within a few weeks, a few months, the person will start to feel very sick. And that’s why we will have to give it an equally aggressive type of treatment to break that cycle.”
Dr. Oluwole also says the leukemia often resides in the bone marrow, and because it is an abnormal growth, it just keeps dividing.
“It doesn’t follow rules, and it doesn’t stop,” he told SurvivorNet. “Not only that, because this is part of the immune system, the immune system is sorta like the police of the body. So those abnormal cells that have now become cancer, they have the ability to go to many places. They go into the blood, and they often go into the tissue or the lining around the brain.”
Symptoms of pediatric (childhood) ALL
According to the National Cancer Institute, the following signs and symptoms may be caused by childhood ALL:
- Easy bruising or bleeding.
- Petechiae (flat, pinpoint, dark-red spots under the skin caused by bleeding).
- Weakness, feeling tired, or looking pale.
- Bone or joint pain.
- Shortness of breath.
- Painless lumps (swollen lymph nodes) in the neck, underarm, stomach, or groin.
- Pain or feeling of fullness below the ribs.
- Loss of appetite.
Advocating for Your Child
Here at SurvivorNet, we always encourage people to advocate for themselves when it comes to cancer and, more generally, health care. When it comes to a child, the parent must become the advocate.
And even if you’re called ‘pushy’ or people dismiss the concerns you have for your child, it’s important to remember that you never know when speaking up about a seemingly unproblematic issue can lead to a very important diagnosis – cancer or otherwise.
“Every appointment you leave as a patient, there should be a plan for what the doc is going to do for you, and if that doesn’t work, what the next plan is,” Dr. Zuri Murell, director of the Cedars-Sinai Colorectal Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “And I think that that’s totally fair. And me as a health professional – that’s what I do for all of my patients.”
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, April Knowles also talked about self advocacy and explained how she became a breast cancer advocate after her doctor dismissed the lump in her breast as a side effect of her menstrual period. Unfortunately, that dismissal was a mistake. Knowles was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at age 39. She said the experience taught her the importance of listening to her body and speaking up when something doesn’t feel right.
“I wanted my doctor to like me,” she said. “I think women, especially young women, are really used to being dismissed by their doctors.”
Figuring out whether or not you have – or your child has– cancer based on possible symptoms is critical because early detection may help with treatment and outcomes. Seeking multiple opinions is one way make sure you are, or your child is, getting the proper care and attention.
You should also try to remember that not all doctors are in agreement. Recommendations for further testing or treatment options can vary, and sometimes it’s essential to talk with multiple medical professionals.