Understanding Brain and Pediatric Cancers
- Tori Svenson just won the 2022 Miss CSU Scholarship Program competition. And now, the childhood brain cancer survivor is hoping to raise money for childhood cancer research and continue her studies to become a pediatric oncology nurse one day.
- There are many different types of brain cancer, but Svenson’s type, medulloblastoma, is a cancerous (malignant) brain tumor that starts in the lower back part of the brain, called the cerebellum, which is involved in muscle coordination, balance and movement.
- Childhood cancer research is lacking, but one of our experts says targeted treatments and different immunotherapies that have been studied in adults and have now moved into clinical trials for children. This means that doctors may have more treatment options for childhood cancer patients in the future.
Tori Svenson was diagnosed with brain cancer after an MRI revealed a tumor the size of a tangerine on April 12, 2011. She was just 7 years old at the time, and the diagnosis came after odd symptoms arrived just a month prior.Read More
She underwent 52 weeks of intense chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation to treat the disease, and, thankfully, those efforts were successful. Today, she is a sophomore nursing major at Columbus State University studying to become a pediatric oncology nurse, and she just won the 2022 Miss CSU Scholarship Program competition.
It’s safe to say she’s doing well, but that doesn’t mean she’s able – or wants to – to stop thinking about cancer.
“I have a lot of side effects due to the treatment because it’s meant for adults, so part of my platform is that I want to find better treatment so that children who undergo the same journey as me don’t have to have those side effects,” she said.
Now, Svenson is working to raise money for childhood cancer research through the Rally Foundation – a nonprofit dedicated to “[empowering] volunteers across the country to raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer research to find better treatments with fewer long-term side effects and, ultimately, cures.” And she hopes to one day help children with cancer just like the nurses helped her in her time of need.
“A big part of why I picked CSU is its nursing program,” she said. “It’s a highly ranked program and just provides a really well-rounded education.”
Understanding Brain Cancer
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), brain tumors account for 85 to 90 percent of all primary central nervous system (CNS) tumors. The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord and acts as the main “processing center” for the entirety of the nervous system, according to the American Cancer Society. Normal function of the brain and spinal cord can become difficult if there’s a tumor present that puts pressure on or spreads into nearby normal tissue.
There are many different types of brain cancer. Some types of brain and spinal cord tumors are more likely to spread into nearby parts of the brain or spinal cord than others. Slow-growing tumors may be considered benign, but even these tumors can cause serious problems.
Svenson’s type of brain cancer was medulloblastoma – a cancerous (malignant) brain tumor that starts in the lower back of the brain, called the cerebellum, which is involved in muscle coordination, balance and movement. This type of brain cancer can occur at any age, but most often occurs in young children. And though medulloblastoma is rare, it’s actually the most common cancerous brain tumor in children.
Brain Tumor Symptoms
Symptoms of brain tumors are often caused by increased pressure in the skull. This pressure can be caused by tumor growth, swelling in the brain or blockage of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), according to the American Cancer Society.
It is important to note that brain tumor symptoms are not exclusive to brain tumors, but you should still contact your doctor if anything seems off. General symptoms may include the following:
- Blurred vision
- Balance problems
- Personality or behavior changes
- Drowsiness or even coma
Understanding Childhood Cancer
Treatment advances in recent decades have lead to 84 percent of children with cancer now surviving five years or more, according to the American Cancer Society. This is up from 58 percent from the mid-1970s.
But according to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, more than 95% of childhood cancer survivors have significant health-related issues because of the current treatment options, and only 4 percent of the billions of dollars spent each year on cancer research and treatments are directed towards treating childhood cancer in the United States. Since 1980, fewer than 10 drugs have been developed for use in children with cancer while hundreds of drugs have been created exclusively for adults.
Dr. Elizabeth Raetz, director of pediatric hematology and oncology at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, reminded us in a previous interview that there is still reason for hope.
“There are also targeted treatments and different immunotherapies that have been studied in adults and have now moved into clinical trials for children and there has been a great deal of excitement in the community about that,” Dr. Raetz previously told SurvivorNet.
Still, navigating a child’s cancer diagnosis can be tricky – something Jayne Wexler knows all too well after watching her son battle acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He, like Svenson, now deals with side effects from treatment. For him, it’s heart disease caused by his chemotherapy. In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Wexler explained that in addition to regular parent worries – having a child with cancer means living with a whole new world of anxieties.
“My husband and I will always have fear,” she said. “I don’t think we can ever let go of that. Just when he was OK, then he relapsed, and then he had the bone marrow transplant … so there’s always some sort of worry.”
Wexler admits she tries to live for each and every day, but it’s understandable that this does not always come easy.
“And I do try – you hear people say this – we do have to live each day and be thankful for what we have,” Wexler said. “And it’s hard to remember that when you’re caught up … it’s very hard to just sort of enjoy the moment, because we just don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”