Being one of the earlier childhood cancer survivors is both a blessing and a scary experience. Little study has been done on long-term effects of treatments and what has been done is usually physically based. What of the psychological long term effects of cancer treatment? How does going through such a severe trauma and facing one’s mortality affect the child as he or she matures and learns more of what cancer is and how blessed he is to be alive?
I cannot speak for other childhood cancer survivors. My own experience is unique as is the experience of every child diagnosed. Because I also have Cowden Syndrome and have perhaps had more cancer scares than most childhood cancer survivors my experience is different but certain psychological aspects remain the same. I was diagnosed during Piaget’s concrete stage of operational thought at age nine. My thought processes were not beyond what I personally experienced. I could not fathom the difference between leukemia patients and solid tumor patients until I was about twelve years old. Solid tumor patients had something bad to be removed but leukemia patients had the bad spread within their blood. How could leukemia patients get better after treatment when their blood was involved? Obviously all leukemia patients were not so blessed but many were and it boggled my young mind.
The person who lived an average childhood devoid of cancer and its problems may be surprised to learn just how closely a cancer battle resembles a war battle. When one nurse mentioned my “battle wounds” from surgeries to remove the tumors it caused me to pause and think. War battles and cancer battles both have casualties whether it is the person fighting or not. Veterans returning from war and certain cancer survivors can experience survivor guilt when we think of those who lost the battle. Those who fight both battles have wounds whether visible physically, psychologically, or both.
In my case, my mom was my right hand woman in fighting cancer. She was with me through all three battles. Then it became her turn to fight for her life and my mind went strange. I felt awkward around her-almost guilty for having had a prognosis so positive while hers was bleak from the beginning. I experienced a similar experience when my husband’s aunt fought her battle with cancer. The logical part of my mind said, “they are happy you are alive” but I resented being alive as I saw both of two of my favorite women die (Shawn’s aunt died one year before my mom). I wondered, “why them and not me?” My Christian faith in God knowing what he is doing is what has pulled me through the past two years since my husband’s aunt died and the one month and one week since my mom died.
I could write all day about how I was affected psychologically by the cancer and it wouldn’t add much to the literature that is out there. I could write about what my friends have said about their battles and it might add a little more but would still lack the validity of a true study. All I can say with 100 percent correctness is it stinks and treatment is as bad as anyone can imagine.
I believe any child undergoing chemotherapy should also undergo psychological counseling for the experience. A cancer diagnosis is a traumatic experience that most children do not have the coping skills for. Many of these children feel they have to be brave in an effort not to upset their loved ones. These children repress their emotions and it causes delay in maturation many times. A study Dr. Sean Phipps was working on in 2001 showed many cancer survivors repressed their feelings among loved ones. This study was in the preliminary stages when I was a part of it so the actual findings may now be published though I am not finding them at close glance on his page.
Again, I cannot speak for other childhood cancer survivors outside of the statistics out there. Too little study has been done on survivors who live past the age of eighteen or the five year mark when physicians say, “you are cured”. COming from someone diagnosed with a relapse at age 16, I can vouch for myself and several other friends who were not.
The point of the article is to keep your appointments even when you do not want to, stay informed of what is happening to the earlier treated cancer patients. The best defense against cancer is an early offense.