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Making Gains: September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the 2021 Chilton County Wellness magazine. Copies are available at our office, 1109 Seventh St. N. in Clanton. 

Cancer can be an intimidating diagnosis at any age. Receiving a cancer diagnosis for one’s child can be especially difficult.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and cancer-oriented organizations are looking to share information and support patients and families.

This year, aTeam Ministries in Homewood, which offers support to patients and their families facing a childhood cancer diagnosis, is encouraging Alabama residents to be a part of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month by praying for and encouraging patients and families. The ministry is creating opportunities to get cards of encouragement to children battling cancer. Cards can be mailed or delivered to 1809 Oxmoor Road, Homewood, AL 35209. More information is available at ateamministries.org.

According to the American Cancer Society, the most common childhood cancers are “leukemia, brain and spinal cord tumors, Neuroblastoma, Wilms tumor, Lymphoma (including both Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin), Rhabdomyosarcoma, Retinoblastoma, Bone cancer (including osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma).”

“Unlike many cancers found in adults, lifestyle-related risk factors (such as diet and exercise) don’t play much of a role in a child’s risk of getting cancer,” according to ACS’s Childhood Cancer Fact Sheet. “A few environmental factors, such as radiation exposure, have been linked with an increased risk of some childhood cancers. But in some cases, exposure to radiation might be unavoidable, such as when a child needs radiation therapy to treat another cancer. If your child does develop cancer, it’s important to know that it’s extremely unlikely there is anything you or your child could have done to prevent it.”

Research has led to more advanced medical treatment of childhood cancer in recent years, leading to better outcomes for patients.

Chilton County has several childhood cancer survivors. In 2019, West End Baptist Church joined the American Cancer Society’s #GoldTogether campaign with its Going #GoldTogether for God’s Children Relay for Life team in honor of childhood cancer survivors.

“ACS has asked several communities to focus on childhood cancer and since through our church we’ve had four different children to battle — and win over — childhood cancer, we asked could we be that childhood cancer team,” organizer Sunny Mays said in an interview at the time. “So, we created a new team.”

“Because of major treatment advances in recent decades, 84% of children with cancer now survive five years or more,” according to the American Cancer Society. “Overall, this is a huge increase since the mid-1970s, when the 5-year survival rate was about 58%. Substantial progress has been made against the most common types of pediatric cancers, boosting overall survival rates.”

Fortunately, many childhood cancers are found in the early stages.

“Cancer in children is not common, but it’s important to schedule regular health checkups and have your child checked by a doctor if they have unusual signs or symptoms that do not go away, such as: An unusual lump or swelling, unexplained paleness or loss of energy, easy bruising or bleeding, an ongoing pain in one area of the body, limping, unexplained fever or illness that doesn’t go away, frequent headaches, often with vomiting, sudden eye or vision changes, sudden unexplained weight loss,” according to the American Cancer Society. “Most of these symptoms are likely to be caused by something other than cancer, such as an injury or infection. Still, if your child has any of these symptoms, see a doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.”

The closest hospital for Chilton County childhood cancer patients is Children’s of Alabama.

“In Chilton County to be such a small community, you have absolutely a much proportionately higher number of children in this county who have or have had cancer,” Kellie Reece of Smile-A-Mile said in a presentation to a Clanton civic club last year.

Smile-A-Mile offers programs for patients at Children’s of Alabama and funds a Pediatric Hematology/ Oncology Fellow in training with the UAB Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology. The organization offers camps in the summer time to give patients the chance to enjoy a fun time despite their diagnosis. A separate camp for siblings is also offered. More information is available at smileamile. com.

To find out more about childhood cancer visit cancer.org/ childhood.