During September communities internationally mark Childhood Cancer Awareness month, showing solidarity and support for families who have patients diagnosed with paediatric oncology.
Women in Action (WiA) cancer supporters, who have been trained by the Childhood Cancer Foundation in South Africa (CHOC), held an awareness day on 15 September in centres nationally and in neighbouring African countries. On one day alone they provided information to almost 10,000 people who come into contact with children on a daily basis, including caregivers, teachers and parents. The meetings were held in different 83 areas making information available to urban and rural communities educating them on the early warning signs, advising them where to seek treatment and empowering them to help win the fight against childhood cancer.
According to a 2014 report by the American Cancer Society, with early detection and treatment in pediatric oncology units, the survival rate can be as high as between 70% and 80% globally, depending on the type of cancer. However, in South Africa the situation is different. CHOC reports that it is estimated that currently less than half of the children with cancer in South Africa are diagnosed, and many of those who are diagnosed are in advanced stages of the illness. One of the reasons for this is a lack of awareness and knowledge of early warning signs of childhood cancer. Good treatment regimes are available in South Africa but they need to be started as soon as possible to ensure a successful outcome.
As part of its childhood cancer awareness programme in September, Women in Action, pastors’ wives from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, invited parents, educators, caregivers, child minders and children to attend an information sharing meeting after the Biblical School for Children (BSC) classes. Trained cancer counsellors provided basic information on childhood cancer and outlined symptoms to be aware of. In all provinces speakers encouraged caregivers to be aware and vigilant and to seek medical attention immediately if a child shows any signs or symptoms which may indicate cancer.
Cancers in children tend to be different from those found in adults, most often occurring in the developing cells including bone marrow, blood, kidneys and nervous system tissues, as well as life-threatening blood disorders.
* Eyes: white spot in the eye, new squint, new blindness, bulging eye
* Lump in the abdomen or pelvis, head, neck, limbs, testes and glands
* Unexplained prolonged fever over two weeks, loss of weight, pallor, fatigue, easy bruising or bleeding
* Aching bones, joints, back and easy fractures
* Neurological: change or deterioration in walk, balance or speech, regression of milestones, headache for more than a week with our without vomiting, enlarging head.
Most of these symptoms are much more likely to be caused by something other than cancer, such as much more common illnesses or infections or an injury. However, if your child has any of these symptoms, see a doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
Childhood cancers require specialist pediatric treatment by a pediatric oncologist, consisting of chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, or a combination of these treatments. In some cases bone marrow or stem cell transplantation is necessary.
Themed “Go Gold” the objective of Women in Action’s events was to raise awareness and help increase the incidence of early detection and successful treatment. The gold ribbon is the symbol for childhood cancer. It represents the courage of all the little heroes battling cancer, acknowledges every survivor and honours the memory of every precious life lost to childhood cancer.
Parents of children who attend the Biblical School for Children welcomed the information on how to identify symptoms and seek treatment for the disease. The presentation stressed the importance of early detection to avoid suffering from an incurable disease. The overall message was to seek professional help if there are any changes in a child’s health and to be aware of symptoms which could be cancer.
Some adults were referred to hospitals or advised to seek guidance from medical doctors, either for themselves or for children in their care.
As part of its ongoing cancer awareness campaign, Women in Action’s trained cancer supporters visit CHOC’s oncology wards in hospitals nationally each week. The Women in Action volunteers offer support and information to the parents who are overwhelmed by their child’s cancer diagnosis and encourage the patients through the treatment journey.
Women in Action is a member of the UICC, the Union for International Cancer Control, and AORTIC, the African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer. The UICC unites the cancer community to reduce the global cancer burden, to promote greater equity, and to integrate cancer control into the world health and development agenda. AORTIC strives to unite the African continent in achieving its goal of a cancer-free Africa, and seeks to make a positive impact throughout the region through collaboration with health ministries and global cancer organisations.
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