Child cancer research gives hope
No parent likes to see his or her child hurt, whether it's after they've fallen off their bike or been injured during a football game. After those moments, mothers put some Neosporin and a band-aid on their child's knee, wipe their tears with a tissue and go about their day. Unfortunately, some parents are forced to deal with a much bigger "boo boo" than that.
Marina McKelvey picked her daughter, Stefanie, up from school to take her to Suburban Pediatrics for what she thought was pneumonia after a few months of on and off viruses. They waited in the doctor's office, had some blood work done, an X-ray and Stefanie was then dropped back off at school. When McKelvey went home, she received a phone call saying something was very wrong, and Stefanie needed to be taken back into Suburban Pediatrics.
"We didn't know that the symptoms she had been having would lead up to this," McKelvey said.
When they returned to Suburban, Stefanie was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma at age 13.
"I was shocked and confused," Stefanie said. "I thought my life was about to change drastically."
She went through chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and several doctors' appointments at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. The hardest part for her was having such a bad immune system that life couldn't be completely normal. Instead of talking with her friends every day before class started, she was talking to nurses at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. It wasn't her normal life, but now it was her new normal.
Childhood cancer is the leading fatal disease in children. Today, one in every 300 people will be diagnosed with cancer before the age 20, and one in five children will die of pediatric cancer. Despite these numbers, less than 2 percent of all federal funding goes towards pediatric cancer research. There is a strong effort from oncologists and other health care facilitators for more money to cure this disease.
Dr. Rajaram Nagarajan, an Oncologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, said there is a strong push to increase funding.
"On the plus side, we've done better and better over the past several decades with some cancers responding to treatment better than others," Nagarajan said. "However, there's a portion of the cancers where we still aren't sure."
Over 12,000 Americans under the age of 20 are diagnosed with pediatric cancer every year. Nagarajan said while this number seems extreme, 1.4 million adult cancers are diagnosed per year; this partly explains why adult cancer research receives more funding.
Nagarajan said 50 percent of childhood cancers are leukemia and brain tumors. The other 50 percent are cancers like bone tumors, neuroblastoma of the eye tumors, etc.
The Children's Oncology Group is a national organization that works with research and studies to better treatment for children. Children's Hospitals in Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Lexington and Louisville work together under a specific subgroup. Nagarajan said there will never be enough patients with one type of cancer at Cincinnati Children's for doctors to find a cure. That's why they work with several other hospitals to collaborate research.
Organizations that work to raise money solely for research are helping to make hospitals' jobs a little bit easier.
Cancer Free Kids (CFK), an organization in Loveland, Ohio, is home to a staff dedicated to raising as much money as possible to be sent to Cincinnati Children's Oncology Department for the sole purpose of research.
Rose Eckhoff, the former Development Chair for CFK, said events are held several times a month by different organizations to benefit CFK. There is an annual banquet dinner to honor survivors and "caregiving" families, partnering with the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon, where they put on "the piggest raffle ever," and CFK even receives help from the Cincinnati Reds.
"Kids' cells are so much cleaner and haven't been exposed to the 'nasties' of the air, so if they can find a cure for kids' cancer they can do it for all cancers," Eckhoff said. "That's the main reason we want to keep the money going to childhood cancer."
Instead of sending the money to Cincinnati Children's in an envelope marked "research," CFK meets with oncologists periodically to learn about new research.
Courtney King, an annual donor to CFK, said she donates for many reasons. A neighbor of hers passed away from cancer as a child, and a friend of hers had a daughter with cancer. Ever since then, it's always been something near and dear to her heart.
"Donating to Cancer Free Kids isn't like donating to a large organization where I'm not sure where exactly my money goes," King said. "I know the money I donate goes directly to help the children and their families at Cincinnati Children's, which is 30 minutes away from my home."
Nagarajan said there have been several improvements in cancer research in the past decade. Research has found that biologically targeted agents are being used to better the treatment for leukemia patients. The second is improving treatments for neuroblastoma, which is cancer of the eye. Research has shown that Accutane, an acne medicine, helps differentiate tumor cells to make them less malignant.
Nagarajan works with inpatient children going through treatment days at a time, and in the outpatient clinic, and sees children who are now in the Survivor Clinic.
"The best part of my job is to see all the patients who had treatments within the last 5 or 10 years come back and tell us about these amazing things they are doing for cancer research," Nagarajan said. "Some run marathons, some put on fundraisers and some even do research. It's amazing to see how these people have transformed their hardships they went through and turned it into something positive."
Stefanie McKelvey is now a first-year in the Nursing Program at Xavier University. Nursing wasn't always something she had planned on.
"If you asked me four years ago I would've said no to nursing," McKelvey said. "However, I've realized over the years how big of an impact my nurses had on me and they were my inspiration."
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