Imagine having to tell someone that they have cancer, and that they may or may not recover. It would be difficult, heart-wrenching and you’d know that your words would change that person’s life forever. Now imagine that person is only a child, who may not even have reached an age yet where they can read or write, let alone comprehend the larger concepts of their short-lived life, and potential death. Or a young person who’s excited because they have their entire life ahead of them. It’s not an enviable position to be in and yet, that’s the reality for some UK healthcare professionals as 12 children and young people receive a cancer diagnosis every day. And of those 12 diagnosed, two will not survive.
Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, where cancer charities, health services and children’s hospitals join together to highlight the impact that cancer has on children, young people and their families. It was founded by former US President, Barack Obama, in 2010 and is designed to raise awareness and money to fund support programmes and research into children’s cancers such as leukaemia, neuroblastoma, lymphoma, brain and spinal tumours, and bone cancer amongst others. The aim is to ultimately save lives and keep families together.
Be bold, go gold
The internationally recognised symbol for childhood cancer is a gold ribbon, and campaigners encourage supporters to wear their gold ribbons throughout September to help start conversations about childhood cancer. Most cancer charities sell their own version of the gold ribbon to help raise funds too.
Facts about childhood cancer
Although childhood cancer is rare, accounting for 0.5% of all cancers in the UK, there are still around 1,900 cases diagnosed every year in children aged up to 14 years, equating to about one child in every 500. Leukaemia is the most common form, and cancer is more prevalent in boys than girls, but the actual rates vary by tumour type. Incidence rates increased by 38% between 1966 and the year 2000, thought to be related to diagnostic improvements and data collection methods although the UK has one of the lowest childhood cancer rates in Europe, though the reason for this is not clear.
One thing that is clear, is the devastation that a diagnosis of cancer can have on families. It can disturb a child’s growth and development and place additional stress on family and friends as parents have to make difficult decisions about their child’s therapy and medications, and watch their little ones undertake a gruelling treatment regime. Cancer can have a negative impact on the child’s behaviour and their mental wellbeing too, and just when they should be seeing their children run free in the park or play blissfully with their friends, they instead, have to see the suffering that the disease, and sometimes the treatments, bring. And if the child ultimately does not survive, then the grief is often inconsolable.
That’s where the cancer charities can step in and ease the burden to become, not only a ‘shoulder to cry on’, but somewhere to turn for information, advice and support when the rest of the world can seem like a dark and unforgiving place.
One positive thing about childhood cancers is that some forms are mainly or only exclusively seen in children, and children can be much more resilient to treatments and the disease itself than adults, meaning that there are many cases where children recover completely and grow up to lead normal, healthy lives. You can read some of these stories on many of the cancer charities’ websites since they help to put a personal face on the statistics and also give hope to others facing similar situations.
Cancer and Covid-19
The pandemic that is currently sweeping the world has also affected cancer care:
- It is thought that there are many cancers that are currently undiagnosed due to people either not going to their doctors during the pandemic, or delays to diagnostic assessments. Healthcare professionals are urging people to come forward as soon as possible and not to delay treatments which could have a negative effect on survival rates.
- Patients who are currently being treated with anti-cancer drugs will find themselves in a high-risk group due to compromised immunity, so may be facing months of social isolation, affecting their mental health further.
- Cancer charities have seen their incomes greatly reduced due to lockdown as well as the closing of many of their shops, and the social isolation of many of their employees and volunteers. This affects their ability to continue research and help patients.
We all know someone who has been affected by cancer, such is the prevalence of the problem, and the need to raise awareness of these issues at this time has never been greater, so Childhood Cancer Awareness Month needs to be on everyone’s calendar in some way.
Childhood cancer charities
There are many childhood cancer charities that need support right now; below is just a small list of those aimed primarily at helping children:
- Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group
- Children’s Cancer Research Fund
- Children with Cancer
- Make a Wish Foundation
- Childhood Eye Cancer Trust
- CLIC Sargent Cancer Care for Children
These are just a few and you might find some more local charities in your own area set up in the memory of local children who may need your help. For a list of other relevant charities for children with cancer, click here.
Ideas for marking the month in your setting
- Wear a gold ribbon to show your support
- Visit some charity websites – there are many which have free resources and fundraising packs to download and use
- Share your support on your social media sites
- Write to your local MP asking for more funds for charities at this time
- Send a card to the local children’s hospital/hospice thanking them for what they do
- Raise some money for a national or local charity of your choice
- Organise a donation of clothes and bric-a-brac and deliver it to your local charity shop
- Support your local cancer charity shop by purchasing something from them
We’d love to hear what you’ve decided to do, so send us your pictures and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.