Health & Fitness

Navigating the journey of a pediatric cancer diagnosis

Dr. Nathan Hall
Dr. Nathan Hall

Your child has cancer. These are some of the most terrifying words a family can hear. From that moment on, a fight and a journey begins.

Cancer does not only affect the child; it’s reach touches families, communities and healthcare providers who all want nothing more than to take away a child’s suffering.

Pediatric oncology (childhood cancer) is a rapidly evolving field that focuses specifically on curing childhood cancer while minimizing treatment-related toxicities. Every day, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer. A short 50 years ago, the cure rates for pediatric cancer were less than 50 percent. Today, cure rates are more than 90 percent for certain types of cancers. The relentless pursuit of a cure and long-term survival for childhood cancer patients has been one of the success stories in medicine over the past 50 years. This in large part is due to stringent research done throughout the United States and the world. One of the leading organizations, the Children’s Oncology Group, has allowed physicians, scientists and researchers around the world to collaborate on the single most important goal in these families’ lives: curing their child’s cancer.

Despite making significant advances in cure rates and development of novel treatments, there are still significant side effects of the treatments these children receive. Chemotherapy effects the entire body of the child and leads to hair loss, nausea and vomiting, and potentially life-threatening infections. Some medications can cause long-term side effects that must be monitored the rest of the child’s life. The role of the health care team not only is to provide treatment, but also to anticipate and manage any side effects that come with treatment.

If you have ever seen a child fight cancer, it will change your life forever. Regardless of frequent doctor appointments and toxic treatments, children adapt and fight without hesitation. As one parent stated, “They ride tricycles in the hallway, not in the park. They know the names of their treatments instead of their classmates. Their central lines have names. Nurses and doctors are their new family. They think hair is overrated. Their strength will make a person cry.”

From the moment a child is diagnosed with cancer, an unpredictable roller coaster ride begins. In the beginning, names of medicines, procedures, and a new healthcare team are scary. As the initial shock of cancer diagnosis becomes real, a multidisciplinary team joins the journey with the patient and family to create an evidence-based plan. The team consists of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, child life specialists – all who are focused on the well-being of the child and family. While no single person can predict where the journey will lead, the goal is to provide the most up-to-date, patient-centric care with the hope of a cure.

Wesley Children’s Hospital has a dedicated pediatric hematology-oncology team that includes pediatric hematology-oncology physicians, a pediatric hematology-oncology nurse practitioner, APHON and chemotherapy certified nurses, a pediatric hematology-oncology pharmacist, child life specialists, social workers, psychologists and nearly every pediatric sub-specialty in one location to help give the best and most evidence-based care to a child with cancer.

The children of Kansas who have cancer will never fight alone in their journey toward a cure.

By. Dr. Nathan Hall, DO, is a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at KU Wichita Pediatrics and Wesley Children’s Hospital