Childhood Cancer – Leukemia #1

“By the end of January Emily began to show more bruises than was normal, especially considering the fact that she wasn’t walking or playing as much as usual. And when she did walk, she was very clumsy, falling a lot. The last week of January, while I was in the kitchen, I heard a loud thump followed by her screaming, and I rushed into the living room to see her on the floor at the base of the coffee table . . . 

Wednesday morning, Feb 8th, Emily woke up with her right eye completely swollen shut and a huge black and blue goose-egg bruise above her right ear. But the kids had a Valentine’s Day party to attend, and by the time we left the house, her eye was back to normal. At the roller skating rink, Emily tried to skate, but quickly got tired and soon fell asleep in her aunt’s arms . . . 

When we got to the Emergency Room and checked in, I didn’t even know what to tell the receptionist. I think I said something like, “She’s been acting different and tired and has a lot of bruises, and we’d like labs drawn.” . . .

But then, at 9:15 p.m., Dr. Owens came back into the room, put her hand on my shoulder, and said, “We need to chat.” In my peripheral vision I noticed a nurse follow her in and shut the door. I looked at my mom and we sat on the bed with Emily in my lap. Dr. Owens looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Emily’s blood work came back and it’s abnormal. Her red blood cells and platelets are too low, and her white blood cells are too high, and there are abnormal white blood cells. She has leukemia.” I turned to my mom and we both choked out a sob, then I turned back to Dr. Owens as she asked me, “Do you know what leukemia is?” . . .”

not feeling very well . . .

not feeling very well . . .

And so begins emilyannelove’s start to a new life.  Not only has her life changed but her parents and siblings as well.  And not only her parents and siblings but her grandpa and grammie and uncles and aunties and cousins.

I came across Emily’s blog while looking for Christian cancer blogs.  When I read about her journey, I was immediately captivated by the intense treatment she underwent and her family support network.  The family persevered; together they endured a year of ups and downs, small victories, great setbacks and an unrelenting fear as Emily time and again was admitted to the hospital for “unknowns”.

Emily is done with her treatment and is in the maintenance phase of her cancer. Her mother, Chrissy, recently wrote what maintenance entailed – Emily is still treated with chemotherapy but she can do most of this at home.  Chrissy reports that the family is getting back to “normal”.  I delight and rejoice with the Love family for getting back to normal but I think the family would agree with me, what is normal after having cancer?

What are the key statistics for childhood cancer?

Childhood cancers make up less than 1% of all cancers diagnosed each year. About 11,630 children in the United States under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with cancer in 2013. Childhood cancer rates have been rising slightly for the past few decades.

Because of major treatment advances in recent decades, more than 80% of children with cancer now survive 5 years or more. Overall, this is a huge increase since the mid-1970s, when the 5-year survival rate was less than 60%. Still, survival rates vary depending on the type of cancer and other factors.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in children younger than 15 years old (after accidents). About 1,310 children are expected to die from cancer in 2013.

Number One Cancer in Children: Leukemia

Leukemias, which are cancers of the bone marrow and blood, are the most common childhood cancers. They account for about 34% of all cancers in children. The most common types in children are acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). Leukemia may cause bone and joint pain, fatigue, weakness, bleeding, fever, weight loss, and other symptoms.

What is childhood leukemia?

Leukemia is a cancer of the early blood-forming cells. Most often, leukemia is a cancer of the white blood cells, but some leukemias start in other blood cell types.

Leukemia starts in the bone marrow (the soft inner part of certain bones, where new blood cells are made). In most cases, the leukemia invades the blood fairly quickly. From there it can go to other parts of the body such as the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), testicles, or other organs.

Development of leukemia

Any of the cells from the bone marrow can turn into a leukemia cell. Once this change takes place, the leukemia cells fail to go through the normal process of maturing. Leukemia cells might reproduce quickly, and not die when they should. They survive and build up in the bone marrow. Over time, these cells spill into the bloodstream and spread to other organs, where they can keep other cells in the body from functioning normally.

What are the risk factors for childhood leukemia?

A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. For example, smoking is a risk factor for several types of cancer in adults.

Lifestyle-related risk factors such as diet, body weight, physical activity, and tobacco use play a major role in many adult cancers. But these factors usually take many years to influence cancer risk, and they are not thought to play much of a role in childhood cancers, including leukemias.

There are a few known risk factors for childhood leukemia.

How is childhood leukemia diagnosed?

It is very important to diagnose childhood leukemia as early as possible and to determine what type of leukemia it is so that treatment can be tailored to provide the best chance of success. The exams and tests below are used to diagnose the disease, to help determine what type of leukemia it is, and to measure how advanced it may be.

Signs and symptoms of childhood leukemia

Many of the signs and symptoms of childhood leukemia are caused by a lack of normal blood cells, a result of the leukemia cells crowding out the normal blood cell-making cells in the bone marrow. As a result, a child may not have enough normal red blood cells, white blood cells, and blood platelets. These shortages show up on blood tests, but they can also cause symptoms. The leukemia cells may also invade other areas of the body, which can also cause symptoms.

Many of these symptoms have other causes as well, and most often they are not due to leukemia. Still, it’s important to let your child’s doctor know about them so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

For a list of symptoms please click [here].

Other resources and references

http://www.cancer.org/cancer/leukemiainchildren/detailedguide/childhood-leukemia-to-learn-more

Article resource:
http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancerinchildren

For Emily’s blog and her compelling story please click [here].

Don’t forget to read “How It All Began” for Emily’s complete story of how she was diagnosed with childhood leukemia.

This is the first article in a series.  The next article will be on the personal side of childhood leukemia.

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