Childhood Cancer Prevention and Treatment
I have been contemplating writing a newsletter about childhood cancer and considering all methods of prevention and treatment for quite some time now, but judging from the almost deafening silence around this topic, it seems to be a very touchy issue to explore.
It is difficult to talk about cancer and children. No parent wants to discuss an illness so devastating and dangerous that it could end their child’s life or profoundly disrupt their family. Many marriages between parents of children who become chronically, seriously, or terminally ill are strained, and all of the families suffer a great deal because of the stress.
No family I have ever met is untouched by cancer. While I am writing this post, every person I can think of has had a family member that has either had cancer and survived or has succumbed to the disease. Cancer is the number one cause of death by disease in children (curesearch.org), and this disease that can affect any cell in the body, any organ, and any bodily system. “Children are most affected by acute leukemia, tumors of the brain and nervous system, the lymphatic system, kidneys, bones and muscles” (childhoodcancer.ca).
“In Canada, childhood cancer remains responsible for more deaths from one year through adolescence than any other disease; more deaths than asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and AIDS combined” (chidhoodcancer.org). As reported by Cure Search for Children’s Cancer, although we have made great advances in the treatment of childhood cancer (75%-88% survival rate today as opposed to 10% fifty years ago, depending on the type of cancer and depending on the organization reporting the statistics), the rate of cancer in children has not declined in over 20 years, over 40,000 children undergo cancer treatment every year, and 60% of these children “suffer late-effects such as infertility, heart failure and secondary cancers” (curesearch.org). “In Canada, childhood cancer remains responsible for more deaths from one year through adolescence than any other disease; more deaths than asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and AIDS combined” (childhoodcancer.ca).
We fear cancer as if it is an entity in and of itself that can attack, maim, and conquer. When we refer to the experience of having cancer, we often call it a battle to be won or lost. And no one wants to lose.
When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it is an undeniably terrifying experience for both parent and child. When we think about this experience, we think about sickly, thin, hairless children in cancer wards hooked up to tubes and surrounded with stuffed animals and kindly volunteers and hospital staff just trying to get them through. Parents pace the halls and take shifts in the ward, sleep in cots, and juggle work, finances, and the parenting of other children at home. Whatever the reality or situation, cancer is a parent’s worst nightmare.
And we can fear. We can fear a lot.
Why Are We Not Talking About Childhood Cancer?
Fear proliferates when we do not know or understand something. It is an emotion we go through when faced with the unknown. When our children are ill, and particularly when they are seriously ill, we fear deeply. Even when we are confident in what we do know, there is always the chance that life or circumstance will not go the way we had planned.
However, much of the fear that can cripple parents when they need to make the right decisions and can hinder their ability to get clear enough to get their families through trying times is to shed a light on that boogeyman in the dark corner. How do you, as a parent, move from fear to action in order to either prevent cancer or to make the very best decisions you can make regarding your child’s care and recovery? Gain knowledge. Get educated. Get empowered.
Cancer 101 I am not a cancer expert nor am I a doctor; I am a mother, children’s health advocate, researcher, health educator, and avid science geek. However, in my studies, research, and experience, I have learned a great deal about cancer that I would like to share with you that you may not yet already know.
We all have cancer all of the time. Our cells have a finite lifespan, and become damaged or old, and they die. This process happens on a regular basis, and it is our immune system’s job to eradicate old, damaged, cancerous cells. Cancer forms when there is a breakdown in this process, and these cancerous cells are left to multiply out of control, potentially invading other parts of the body.
Cancer is caused by immune system dysfunction.
There is a lot of debate over what causes cancer to grow, some saying that cancer cannot grow in an oxygenated environment and others saying that sugar feeds cancer cells. Some say it is best to perform surgery, and some say that surgery is dangerous and perhaps unnecessary. Some say that chemo and radiation are best, while others say that these methods wipe out the much-needed immune system.
The fact is that there are many theories and much success and failure in employing some of the hypothesis on a case-to-case basis. The cause of each person’s cancer may vary from person to person and the treatment that will be successful will also vary. Yes, this is daunting when you are a parent of a child who has cancer and wants to know exactly why this happened and what you can do about it.
The good news it that what the scientific community (both medical and holistic, alike) does know is that the underlying cause of cancer is a dysfunctional or confused immune system.
The immune system is the body’s defense system.
When mutated cells form, the immune system takes out the trash. If working properly, it can pinpoint diseased or damaged cells as well as foreign invaders and eradicate them before they can take up shop or cause imbalance and disease. But when the immune system is confused or not working properly, cancer can proliferate. It’s like having no guard at the gate and everyone is invited, including the freeloaders and vandals.
Genetics are definitely a piece, but only a one piece of the puzzle.
Traditionally, it has been thought that genetics predispose us for the illness and diseases we will encounter in our lives; your genetic weaknesses will be the ultimate cause of your death, and there is not much you can do about it but hope for the best and live your life. Scientists and researchers on the cutting edge of a science called epigenetics will agree that you must live your life without fearing what your genetics might predict for you, but they may disagree on the notion that your genetic blueprint is your destiny.
According to epigenetics, your genetic code is simply a blueprint, and you decide if that blueprint or parts of that blueprint are read through how you live and what you eat. That is not to say that you will never get cancer or your children will never get cancer, but it is to say that, although there a lot of environmental factors that are not in our control, there are a great many of them that are.
My Child Has Cancer
As it seems to be the case with all heath issues these days, cancer treatment is a very hot topic of debate. What treatment is right? The medical approach of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation is the gold standard of care, but is it the best for me? Is it the best for my family? Are holistic methods effective? What should I do when my child has cancer? Can I do anything to prevent it? Parents can deeply fear making the wrong decisions and can feel immense guilt when their children become ill.
When parents are dealing with things like stomach upset, fevers, ear infections, even chronic conditions such as Diabetes, their fear may be less intense because the imminent threat to their child is deemed to be less urgent with these conditions (that is another post for another time). They can be more inclined to seek out the treatments that may take some time to take effect or to explore treatments that may be new to their doctors or themselves and that take time (and often money) to research access.
Natural treatments have been highly successful for the treatment of cancer and can be highly successful, some may say, more effective, than the medical route. At the very least, natural treatments can be used in conjunction with conventional treatments in cancer care as the holistic methods involve essential components of building health such as proper nutrition and strengthening the immune system.
Parents need to be informed about how cancer works, how it can be prevented and treated, and holistic, natural methods must be on the list of choices for your family. So, let’s have an open conversation about this, shall we?
Across the board, whether you are a medical doctor or a holistic practitioner, most caregivers agree that diet and lifestyle are, by far, the best ways to both treat and prevent childhood cancer.
Why is this? To prevent cancer, we need to revisit what causes cancer in the first pace and do what we can to live a life that encourages health.
Stress is the number one lifestyle factor that causes childhood disease. Yes. Children have stress. They have mental/emotional stress as well as physical stress that we don’t always associate with stress, such as infection, high sugar intake, and late nights at the movies.
Stress causes the fight or flight response which shunts energy away from things like digestion and fighting off disease to the systems necessary to flee from imminent danger (such as a bear chasing you). When your children are stressed multiple times a day, day in and day out, this causes a state of chronic stress, messed up hormones, you name it, and opens the door to more serious illness because the immune system is suppressed.
And, you guessed it, we need the immune system to get rid of damaged, dead, or cancerous cells.
Factors that stress your child’s body:
Poor diet and/or nutrient deficiency
Obesity or overweight
Food sensitivities and poor gut health
Lack of exercise
Lack of sleep or poor sleep
Not enough play or downtime
Chemical burden or toxin exposure
Exposure to electromagnetic fields and radiation (EMFs)
Overstimulation via excessive screentime
Now that you know what causes stress (which causes diseases like cancer), you can do something about prevention and treatment. Here are some ways you can strengthen your child’s immune system and give them the right building blocks to repair and thrive:
1. Reduce your child’s stress by emphasizing ample sleep, rest, play, and proper nutrition. (Stay tuned for future posts that explore each of these topics in more detail.)
2. Reduce your child’s stress by reducing their exposure to chemicals, EMFs and radiation, computer, phone screens and other devices, and address infection. (Again, stay tuned for future posts that explore each of these topics in more detail.)
3. Educate yourself. Although what I have written above makes up the essential foundation of cancer prevention and treatment, I do not want to say that it is simple. Cancer treatment is very complicated. There are many many tools, systems, methods, supplements, therapies, medical procedures, and nutritional strategies that are effective for your child’s care. The type and stage of the cancer must be considered, as should the family’s beliefs, limitations, strengths, and access to resources. But when you become educated on what options are there for you, then you can come to the right decisions for your children with less fear and more hope.
And if someone on your healthcare team does not know the answer to your questions, ask someone else. Keep asking. Then ask, again.
Parents must be able to talk about all of their options in order to make informed decisions along the way, to generate support for your families, and to know that you are not alone. You are not alone.
Photo: A mother with a sick child in hospital. Picture posed by models. Getty Photograph: Rubberball/Getty Images/Rubberball