September is International Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and a time to shed light on children’s cancer and the need for improved diagnosis, treatment and outcomes.
Statistics show an estimated 650 children aged 0-14 years will be diagnosed with cancer in Australia this year and a fifth of these children will not survive.
Children’s Cancer Institute Ambassador and childhood cancer survivor Nikki Quinn, 24, wants to raise awareness by sharing her story.
Miss Quinn was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 13, going from a sporty girl to spending two years of her life in hospital and getting tremendous treatments.
“When I first visited the doctor, he said I looked anaemic but that it was normal for a sporty kid at my age. The next day he called me back in and I got taken into a separate room where he explain I had leukaemia,” she said.
“I knew people who had cancer and they all died so I was worried, but when I asked my mum if I was going to die she said no but it will be the toughest game of softball you have ever played, which gave me focus on what I had to do.”
During treatment, Miss Quinn was placed into several medical induced comas and lost the ability to walk and had severe nerve damage. She had to teach her body how to do things, such as eating, all over again. She also lost eight friends during her journey
“Cancer survivors sometimes get a thing called survivors guilt, which is a form of posttraumatic stress where you feel guilty for surviving when you watch your friends fight until they die. Being diagnosed with that was another thing I had to learn how to deal with,” she said.
“Today my cancer is all gone, however I still have a lot of side effects. I’m in pain all the time, my bones feel like they are getting crushed, and I’m on strong painkillers to get me out of bed every day.
“For a while after being sick, I didn’t now why I survived and why I was here. I was trying to figure out my purpose, but now I raise awareness about childhood cancer and the after effects that is brings which many doesn’t understand.”
Miss Quinn said improved diagnosis and treatment will not only save more lives, it will mean cancer survivors can go through life with less or no side effects.
Cancer Council Australia CEO Professor Sanchia Aranda said having nearly three kids dying each week, and many more feeling the effects of cancer and treatments for years to come is not acceptable.
This is why cancer Cancer Councils around Australia are putting research focus on childhood cancer, because we need to improve cancer treatment and support.
“A critical aspect of Cancer Council’s research is keeping track of trends over time by recording clinical treatments and information on children diagnosed with cancer in the country.”
Miss Quinn said we need to get the death rate down to zero by personalising treatment.
“This aims to be done by looking at kids’ stem bag node and the contuma of the cells depending on the type of cancer the child has. The result is sent to a lab where researchers try different protocols of treatment of it and the one that gets the best response are sent to the oncologist,” she said.
“This usually takes years but it can be done within hours now thanks to research. Not only are kids getting better chance of survival, in case the protocol doesn’t work, there are other options.”