Cancer: Early detection, treatments best for children – Nwobbi
Dr. Nneka Nwobbi is Founder, Children Living with Cancer Foundation, a non-governmental organisation creating awareness on cancer in children to mark 2016 World Cancer Day. She spoke to PAUL ADUNWOKE on management, prevention and treatments of cancer in children.
What are the possible managements of cancer?
CANCERS are managed at tertiary institutions, because that is where they have other experts in other fields, as one might run into complications, and if you are doing it in private hospital, you may not have the cooperation of other experts in other fields. To treat a child with cancer, three modalities are needed, which include surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. After under going surgery, the person needs to go for chemotherapy to enable it kill the cells. Sometimes before going for surgery, a patient should go for chemotherapy or radiotherapy to enable it kill the tumor to a suitable size before the surgery, depending on the type of cancer.
There are different types of cancers in children. The one we have in our environment is glaucoma, which is white blood cells, which include the eye, brains and nose. We also have cancer of the muscles, among other cancers.
Are there quick remedies in terms of diagnosis?
Diagnosis is done mostly in tertiary institutions, which is normally done with full blood medical tests before the diagnosis. Sometimes, a child coming for diagnosis may wait for two or three months for results to come out. These institutions can do sophisticated medical tests, among others.
What is expected from parents?
Parents are expected to willingly open up, not only to us, but to the public. They should be able to discuss that their children have cancer. People keep the fact that their children have cancer secret, which shouldn’t be so.
We do not charge money for registration, but people should be able to discuss with other people that their children have cancer, so that it is not hidden to enable other parents know that children can also have cancer. This might help a child to be brought in early and the child would receive treatments and get cured. What obtains in Nigeria in this regard is more often of stigma; so people do not want others to know that their children have cancer.
What does it cost a child to get treatments?
We are a non-profit charity organisation. We ask people to donate money, as they can afford. We also ask people to adopt children and pay for their hospital bills in our ward. We get assistance from schools, companies and individuals, who make donations to the children in the ward. We still need more people to make donations, which we would use to treat children.
We do not have enough money, but when we see that a parent of a child living with cancer is poor, we try, as much as possible, to save the child’s life. We seek financial assistance from members of the public to save the child.
What should parents know about cancer in children?
IN the UK and US, there is 80 percent cure rate of cancer treatment, while in Nigeria, we have about 20 percent cure rate. Many parents are not aware that children can have cancer, therefore, by the time they come for treatment, the cancer might have spread, making achieving the cure difficult. We want Nigerians to know that cancer also affects children and not just adults. If there is suspicion that a child is living with cancer, the parents should do the needful and have that child properly examined and commence treatment, as soon as possible.
Our Foundation was founded 13 years ago and our main objective is to create awareness about childhood cancer, and help parents whose children have cancer. We are creating awareness to enable people know that children can also have cancer. We want them to know that they are not alone and cancer in children is not a death sentence. We give free chemotherapy drugs to children in hospital ward. We have a hospital ward dedicated mainly for children living with cancer and we make sure all the medical facilities are complete there. We work with Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTHH) and Orthopedic Hospital Igbobi, Lagos.
Outside Lagos State, people come from Shagamu, Ebonyi State, Cross Rivers and River State, asking that we help them with free chemotherapy drugs. We help them, but our presence is not so much focused outside Lagos. Our aim is that at the end, we should have a Children cancer centre, where every body in West African Region, would have free comprehensive treatments. So, there would be no need going abroad for children cancer treatments, when we can treat the disease in Nigeria.
How possible is it for one to seek help from NGOs like yours?
We also counsel the parents and as soon as possible, we teach them about treatments and side effects, especially after treatments. All these things are what parents go through, because side effects are so bad that parents begin to get upset about what they are seeing in their children. Just imagine their children losing their hair like an old person or a very fair child becoming quite dark. The commonest one is nausea and vomiting, which is quite discouraging in a child’s health.
It is not accepted in Nigeria that children should die. So, we counsel parents about the possible death of their children. We do it minimally, but not from us directly, but undertaken by the doctor, who manages the sick child, especially at the critical stage, where people might think that the children won’t make it. At that stage, the parents would not be comfortable with the treatment the doctor is giving the child. Sometimes, the parents begin to feel that the doctor has failed them. But we try counselling parents to make their children happy, even if they know the child would not survive the sickness.