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Cancer kills more Australian children than all other diseases combined. Around 1 in 285 kids are diagnosed prior to reaching adulthood. Over 10,000 Australian children are fighting cancer now. Another 1,100 are diagnosed each year. 1 in 5 kids die within 5 years of diagnosis.
90% of childhood cancer survivors may develop chronic, lifelong health problems. Survivors are at greater risk of developing secondary cancers. Sadly, cancer does not discriminate as any child between 0 and 19 can be affected.
Leukaemia is cancer of the bone marrow and blood and the most common childhood cancers. It accounts for about 30% of all cancers in children. Overall survival rates for children are now around 90%, but some ‘high-risk’ leukaemia subtypes have a much lower survival rate, often failing to respond to conventional chemotherapy.
Receiving a diagnosis of cancer can have a devastating emotional impact on a child. It may create a sense of uncertainty and helplessness, or perhaps leave them feeling anxious or depressed. It is important to monitor a child’s emotions during this time and reassure them that you are there for them; they are still loved and if necessary, seek some counseling to support them. The responses may be varied and exacerbated by previously existing dynamics or mental health issues.
Cancer is not a very big word, and it certainly is not a sentence. But the disruption to a child’s life can be massive. Not only the child is forced to make changes but all those around that child – their family, friends and caregivers.
Whilst a child is receiving treatment for cancer, they may not be able to attend their regular school and may need home tutoring. At least when the treatment is over, the child is not compromised on their education standard and may return to their regular school and amongst their familiar friends.
Treatment is usually taken over many months and the child may need to move into other accommodation, not just a hospital bed. If the child lives in a remote area, they may need to find somewhere closer to the treatment facility and there is a great range of suitable, purpose built homes now available. Whilst this may not feel the same as the family home, it’s important to remember it is just a temporary solution during a time of need. They are beautiful, peaceful havens away from some of the stresses and demands that come with this life changing illness.
A child may even need to transfer into a wheelchair whilst receiving treatment and this may need adjustments within the household. Often a wheelchair is hired as it is only a temporary measure until the child is stronger.
A child may also lose all their hair during chemotherapy and not every child will be happy about their new look. There are some very cool bandanas available from CanTeen if they wish to hide their new looks or they may opt for a wig. For teenagers, hair loss can be devastating when they are so conscious about their appearance, and you will need to do everything you can to help your teen find a satisfactory way to cope with this problem. Your child will need to know if hair loss is likely to occur because of his or her treatment, and you will need to make plans to cope with this in ways that make your child most comfortable. The good news is, the hair will grow back at the end of the treatment. Encourage her to experiment with different kinds of hair coverings and have fun with this process
Not all chemotherapy medications cause the loss or thinning of hair. In the case of chemotherapy, hair loss occurs because some anticancer drugs are made to kill fast-growing cancer cells.
It is wise to talk about the possibility of hair loss with your child before chemotherapy commences so they are pre-warned. Some children may prefer to have their hair shaven off before it starts to fall out rather than have the horror of finding hair on the shower floor.
CanTeen does a full support service for children from ages 12 – 24 years with cancer and Your Home Care is a proud supporter.