I could never have anticipated how much the field of oncology would excite me. As a teenager, I chose to volunteer with pediatric oncology patients on a whim. I found myself fascinated, and deeply humbled by the psycho-social challenges that these young patients and their families face. I found my way to medicine, and I wondered whether the medical field of oncology would be similarly intriguing to me.
Kristine Laplante could not believe it when her 6 month old daughter Evie was diagnosed with a brain tumour. “She had this crazy eye twitch that led us to our family doctor” says Kristine. “We learned that she had a cancerous brain tumour called a Hypothalamic Optic Glioma. Our lives were forever changed in that moment.” Evie is now 6 years old and has been on chemotherapy for most of her life. “There is currently no cure. Treatment is geared towards slowing the growth of the tumour until the research catches up.”
One of the greatest fears of a bereaved parent is that their passed child will be forgotten. With the holiday season upon us, this feeling is more acute as loved ones gather together.
In the early years of our bereavement, I wanted so badly to buy Shawn, our 3 year old who had passed away from a brain tumour, a gift. Something under the tree so he knew that we hadn’t forgotten about him and that he was still in our hearts and minds every day. Each and every time I stopped myself though. One night, close to Christmas Eve, I decided to write him a letter. I told him how much he was missed, how much we loved him and placed the note in his stocking, hung beside everyone else’s. This felt like the right way to include him in our holiday season and has been my tradition since his passing in 2007.
When I was in college, I participated for one semester in a group called ATLAS: Adolescents Transitioning to Leadership and Success. My best friend and college roommate, who has juvenile diabetes, was the one who brought me to a meeting and got me involved. ATLAS was a support group run by college students with chronic illness (anything from diabetes, to Crohn’s disease, to cancer), for younger teenagers with chronic illness.
When cancer is diagnosed in younger patients, there are a number of unique issues that need to be considered that older patients do not face. Fertility is one of the most important concerns reported by adolescent and young adult (AYA) patients as many hope to survive their disease and go on to have children in the future. Research focused on fertility in AYA survivors has increased in recent years, but there remains a great unmet need for comprehensive reproductive health counseling at all stages of the cancer continuum; before treatment begins and in post-treatment survivorship care.
2016 has been a big year for me. I’m a research scientist from the UK and this year I published my first scientific paper from an idea which was of my own design. It also marks 22 years since I was diagnosed with childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). Two separate bits of information, which are uniquely linked. My treatment regimen 22 years ago was similar to protocols that children undergo across the world even now. Although the cure rates for childhood ALL have increased dramatically in the last 22 years, the chemotherapy drugs used remain very similar, as do the side effects from treatment. I remember hating painful asparaginase injections and horrible mood swings and pica caused by steroids, but the worst side effect I personally experienced was after methotrexate.