Celebrating the end of cancer
For Sophie, New Year’s Eve was as much an “I don’t have cancer anymore” party as it was a celebration of her 18th birthday.
To mark World Cancer Day, This Is Medtech shares Sophie’s tribute to 2016 and to life itself.
“Cancer sucks. Everyone knows that. But believe it or not, even cancer has its silver lining,” she says of New Year’s Eve 2015/2016, which was the best night of her life thanks to Make-A-Wish Australia, a charity that grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses.1
The evening of music and spectacular fireworks at the Lord Mayor’s New Year’s Eve party in Sydney marked a new beginning for Sophie, who was diagnosed at the age of 13 with Stage 4 medulloblastoma, a common type of childhood brain cancer. “I endured endless days in hospital beds undergoing chemo and radiation,” she says, adding that this gave her plenty of time to think about her wish.
Brain cancer is the second most common type of cancer in children, followed by leukaemia, or cancer of the blood cells. According to the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group in the UK, childhood cancers can be quite different from those affecting adults in that they tend to occur in different parts of the body and they respond differently to treatment.
It’s encouraging to know that the survival rate for children’s cancer has more than doubled since the 1960s, and that about 82% of all children can now go into complete remission. For some children’s cancers, the remission rate is even higher.
Everybody’s cancer story is unique
Cancer treatment is individualised and therefore varies from patient to patient. However, the three main types of treatment are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
If the disease hasn’t spread to other parts of the body, surgery can be done to remove the tumour as well as some surrounding healthy tissue. This may be all the treatment a patient needs to be cancer free.
The surgeon sends all the removed tissue to a lab where it’s examined under a microscope. This helps doctors decide whether any further treatment (like chemotherapy or radiotherapy) is needed.
Chemotherapy is a treatment using drugs designed to kill the cancer cells and stop them from dividing. People can have chemotherapy as an injection, an intravenous (IV) drip, or as a tablet or capsule. It can be taken before surgery to shrink the tumour or afterwards to get rid of any remaining cancer cells that may be circulating in a person’s body.
Another common way to treat cancer is radiotherapy, which uses radiation to destroy the DNA of cancer cells. This can be done externally by using an x-ray or internally, by using radioactive materials to attack the tumour cells. The internal treatments can come in a liquid, which is swallowed by the patient, or by inserting radioactive metal wires, seeds or tubes inside or close to the tumour.
The hardest part, especially for a kid
Cancer treatment usually comes with undesirable side effects like tiredness, nausea and hair loss, as healthy cells are affected, too. For Sophie, the hardest part was no longer being a “normal” teenager.
“The normalcy never returns either, as my hair never grew back (because of alopecia caused by the severity of the treatment damaging my hair follicles) I am forever known as the girl who has cancer,” she tells This Is Medtech. “Not only do I not have hair, I still have to have regular check-ups at the hospital and I missed a whole year of school and being a normal 13 year-old-girl,” she adds.
These hardships seem to have strengthened her resolve to be a nurse. As she embarks on a nursing degree, Sophie says her aim is “to give to patients what I was given during treatment: care and respect. How anyone treats you affects your mood and my nurses were all wonderful. That’s who I want to be.”
The Guardian, My wish came true on New Year’s Eve – even cancer has a silver lining, 6 January 2016