Real-Life Stories

Survivorship: Lives Forever Changed

by Becky Chapman Weaver, Chief Mission Officer
June 10, 2021

June is National Cancer Survivor Month, a time to celebrate childhood cancer survivors – and to keep the focus on progress. Because surviving is just the first step in a lifelong journey.

Brooke is a survivor whose story is one of a long battle not only with cancer, but with both life-threatening and chronic health issues caused by the treatments that saved her life.

Brooke, 25-year-old childhood cancer survivorBrooke V., 25, cancer survivor Photo credit: Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group

She’s one of about 500,000 survivors of childhood cancer in the U.S. today. That’s about 1 in every 750 young adults.

Whether they were diagnosed as infants, children or teens, every childhood cancer survivor’s health needs to be monitored carefully for the rest of their lives.

The Risks

Each survivor’s risk of late effects of cancer treatment depends on his or her tumor, specific treatments, age, genetic makeup and other factors. Surgeries, chemotherapies, radiation, stem cell transplants and other treatments take a toll on the body – and sometimes the mind – in many ways. Some late effects make life more difficult; others are life-threatening.

Heart and lung problems are common, as are secondary cancers. Of all the late effects childhood cancer survivors face, these are the deadliest.

Other late effects can include hearing problems, hormonal imbalances, difficulty growing, mental health needs or cognitive deficiencies, bone density issues and easy bone fractures, fertility and reproductive problems, and more.

If all of this sounds scary, it is. Imagine having a heart attack in your 20’s. Or being diagnosed with breast cancer in your 30’s as a result of the radiation you had as a child. Or fighting graft-vs-host-disease for years after the bone marrow transplant that rid your body of cancer. These are just a few of the reasons we say, “a cure is not enough.”

No Expiration Date

And with every year that passes, the risk of these late effects doesn’t decrease: It increases.

We used to say that more than two thirds of all childhood cancer survivors experience serious health consequences of their treatment. That’s true, but now research supported by St. Baldrick’s, taking a more detailed look at the cumulative effects of cancer and its treatments over time, shows a harsher reality:

By the time they are 50 years old, more than 99% of childhood cancer survivors have a chronic health problem, and 96% have had severe or life-threatening conditions.

Another way to look at it: By age 50, childhood cancer survivors have experienced, on average, 17 adverse effects, 3 to 5 of those being life threatening.

By the time a child in treatment for cancer today reaches the age of 50, we want these stats to be far less grim.

St. Baldrick’s donors are funding research to cure kids in ways that leave them healthier – not just during and immediately after cancer treatment, but for the rest of their lives.

St. Baldrick’s remains laser focused on finding better treatments for those we can’t cure yet, while working to lessen the lifelong challenges faced by survivors, caused by the very treatments that cured them. In fact, donors like you have supported more than 70 institutions with more than 149 grants totaling over $20 million, specifically to improve survivorship.

Some, like Supportive Care Research Grants, focus on how to help those who are already survivors to lead healthier lives. Others aim to change treatments for patients of today, to give them a better tomorrow.

Brooke, childhood cancer survivorBrooke is pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor.

On June 18th, the same day she was diagnosed with cancer six years ago, this year Brooke will take the exam to qualify for medical school. Becoming a doctor was a dream long before she faced cancer. That dream was put on hold for treatment and then severe late effects.

Today, we celebrate that Brooke can again pursue her dreams, as so many others are doing. And we never forget those who still face major health challenges as a result of their treatments.

St. Baldrick’s will continue to support research not only to find new cures, but better ones.

Help kids to survive and thrive.

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