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Posted by Dr. Alison McAllister on Friday, 30 September 2016

Childhood Cancer – Let’s Talk About It

Children's cancer ribbon

The month of September is known for both menopause month and children’s cancer awareness month. Many people commonly recognize the first but not the second.

I would just like to take a moment and talk about children’s cancer. This is not my typical blog about fun and the joy of science and research that I usually strive for.

Don’t worry, I'll blog about the wonders of estrogen, thyroid, or testosterone soon I’m sure. The ZRT family however, has been touched by a child of an employee with cancer – Go Regan! – and sadly 1 out of 300 children will be diagnosed with cancer (under the age of 18).

I personally have 3 friends whose children have had cancer and I’ve personally worked with families and been affected by their journeys.  Without awareness, there is no drive for funding of pediatric cancer research or pediatric cancer treatments which today is only 4% of the national research budget and almost zero of the pharmaceutical companies’ budgets. 

My Personal Involvement

Now, you might wonder what this has to do with me or my work here at ZRT. A legitimate question to be sure. I actually did my residency in integrative cancer care at a time when few people were acknowledging the role of diet or supplements in healthcare, let alone cancer care. I saw amazing people face difficult illnesses with a spirit of strength that continues to inspire me today. I saw people survive their cancer and their treatment to return home to their lives, surprising their doctors and families, and to live fully, although often choosing a different life path.

But I also saw people who were “cured” only to question if it was worth it, because of how they felt after treatment. Many times, these were my patients whose hormones were so dramatically changed by their cancer treatment that they no longer felt like themselves; and so began my delving into the world of endocrinology and eventually to my coming to ZRT. Over the years, I have, like many of you, been able to dramatically improve my patients’ lives through thyroid support, adrenal support or sex hormone support. But the patients that always touch me the deepest are the children.

Hormonal Effects of Cancer Treatments in Children

The children and their families, the other doctors and nurses, are like a precious metal – strong and vibrant, forged by the terrible hammer of cancer and treatment.

Now, children under the age of puberty commonly don’t have reproductive hormones, but the treatments for cancer in children are often more harsh than those used in adults because of their rapidly growing bodies and metabolism. This commonly contributes to children having lasting neurological, psychological, endocrinological, and frankly every other “–logical” part of their body, longer term consequences.

They struggle with adrenal imbalance symptoms as the high doses of steroids used impact the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system that was really just starting to develop. They struggle with centralized hypothyroidism that can be missed because it’s not common, but when they’ve had radiation to the brain, that can be an unforeseen problem. Older teens struggle with infertility as the treatment will damage their uterus, ovaries or testicles leading to lifelong dependence on hormones. Other problems such as paralysis, brain damage, learning disabilities, depression, and of course PTSD, are also not uncommon badges of “winning” against childhood cancer.

Resilience of Families Affected by Childhood Cancer

It sounds like so much, and it is. It’s terribly unfair. But the children and their families, the other doctors and nurses, are like a precious metal – strong and vibrant, forged by the terrible hammer of cancer and treatment. They are some of the most amazing people you’ll meet and you wonder how they do it; but those of us who are parents know that you just “DO” when your child needs you. You face the situation and you move through. There really isn’t a choice. Sadly, too often the children dealing with cancer do not survive. As a society we don’t like to talk about that. There is no money in pharmaceuticals to treat children. Science has brought few new treatments for children’s cancers and there are few studies looking at therapies specifically geared for children, although there are some promising strides being made in immunotherapies. 

So today I raise a cheer to all those children, parents, extended families and friends who have gone through cancer. Let’s raise awareness so that other children and their loved ones don’t have to walk this terrible path. Go Gold in September for children’s cancer awareness.

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Tagged in: Cancer