Caring for a Child with Cancer
- Axel was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia at 14 months old. So, his parent’s wanted the young cat-lover to have a buddy for comfort through treatment. That’s when they adopted Bingo.
- Bingo and Axel have always been inseparable – especially so, during Axel’s cancer treatments. Now, he’s 2 years old, cancer-free and in the maintenance phase of his chemotherapy plan.
- Leukemia is a type of blood cancer. Symptoms vary depending on the type of leukemia, but potential symptoms for leukemia in children include: pale skin, feeling tired, weak or cold, dizziness, headaches, shortness of breath, trouble breathing, frequent or long-term infections, fever, easy bruising or bleeding such as nosebleeds or bleeding gums, bone or joint pain, belly (abdominal) swelling, poor appetite, weight loss and swollen lymph glands (nodes).
- The survival rate for children with cancer has improved over the past few decades to nearly 90%, but pediatric cancer is still an incredibly hard thing for a child and his or her family to go through. In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, one caregiver/mother of a cancer survivor shared that therapy was a great way to process everything happening to her family.
Axel has had a connection with cats from the very start. He even managed to befriend his parents grump cat.Read More
“We named her Bingo because Axel loves the kid’s show ‘Bluey,’ and Bingo is Bluey’s sister on the show,” Haley said.
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The connection was instant. And, thankfully, Bingo is more than tolerant of Axel’s toddler tendencies.
“They’ve been besties since the day we got her,” Haley said. “I just can’t believe that this cat has such a bond with my son. It’s wild!”
Even during the “really hard days” of Axel’s treatment, Bingo knew exactly what to do.
“I definitely think she understood that feeling and to be gentle and calm because she would lay with him on the couch for 12 hours,” Haley said. “She did not leave his side; she just stayed wherever he positioned himself around her.”
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Now 2 years old and cancer-free, Axel is currently in the “less strenuous and aggressive” maintenance phase of his chemotherapy treatments. But Bingo is still right by his side “causing trouble.”
“It’s been really special to watch,” Haley said of the ‘perfect pair.’ “They have quite a strong connection.”
Learning about Leukemia
Leukemia is a blood cancer that develops when the body produces large quantities of abnormal white blood cells. These cells prevent the bone marrow from producing any other type of cell including red blood cells and platelets.
“One cell got really selfish and decided that it needed to take up all the resources of everybody else, and, in doing so, took up space and energy from the rest of the body,” Dr. Nina Shah, a hematologist at University of California San Francisco, explained.
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In a more general sense, blood cancer means that your bone marrow is not functioning properly.
“And when your bone marrow doesn’t function correctly, it means that you can have something happen to you like anemia,” she said. “Or you can have low platelets, which makes it possible for you to bleed easily. Or your immune system is not functioning correctly.”
Symptoms of Leukemia in Children
When a child develops leukemia, noticeable symptoms can depend on many factors. Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child but potential ones include the following, according to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center:
- Pale skin
- Feeling tired, weak or cold
- Shortness of breath, trouble breathing
- Frequent or long-term infections
- Easy bruising or bleeding such as nosebleeds or bleeding gums
- Bone or joint pain
- Belly (abdominal) swelling
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Swollen lymph glands (nodes)
These symptoms are not exclusive to leukemia. So, just because your child exhibits any or multiple of these symptoms does not mean they necessarily have leukemia. Even still, you should always bring your child for medical evaluation should any changes to their health occur. You never know when speaking up could lead to a crucial diagnosis.
Understanding Childhood Cancer
The American Cancer Society estimates about 9,910 children in the United States under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with cancer in 2023.
But treatment advances in recent decades have lead to 85 percent of children with cancer now surviving five years or more. This is up from 58 percent from the mid-1970s.
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Still, according to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, more than 95 percent of childhood cancer survivors experience significant health-related issues by the age of 45 because of the current treatment options, and only 4 percent of the billions of dollars the government spends each year on cancer research is directed towards treating childhood cancer in the United States.
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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 told SurvivorNet.
Caring for A Child with Cancer
Navigating a child’s cancer diagnosis can be incredibly tricky – something Jayne Wexler knows all too well.
She had to fill the roles of parent and cancer caregiver when her son, Justice, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Thankfully, he has since recovered.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Wexler explained how she managed to be a mother and a caregiver all at once.
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“Being a caregiver is a huge job,” Wexler said. “Fortunately, my husband and family were very supportive.
“It’s really hard to see your child go through this. If it could be me, I would take it in a second. You just go on auto-pilot and you just do what you have to do.”
Wexler admitted, as a parent caring for a child with the disease, you don’t have a lot of time to sit down and deal with your own emotions.
“You don’t have that much time for yourself,” Wexler said. “I try to stay strong, but then sometimes you just want to go and cry, and you need to cry… it’s good to cry.”
RELATED: A Childhood Cancer Survivor Shares Her Beautiful Appreciation For Life: ‘Life Is Short… You Can’t Take Anything For Granted’
The survival rate for children with cancer has improved over the past few decades, but pediatric cancer is still an incredibly hard thing for a family to go through. In her own caregiving experience, Wexler found therapy to be a great way to process everything happening to her family. Regardless of whether it’s therapy or participating in your favorite activities or something entirely different, it’s important to find ways to also take care of yourself as you’re taking care of your child.
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