When we think of cancer, we tend to think of the adult with breast, bowel or prostate cancer, and generally there will be an adult that we personally know or have heard of who has passed away from cancer. But did you know, apart from accidents, that cancer is still unfortunately the most common cause of death of children in New Zealand? It may be in your country as well.
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Does Your Child Have Cancer?
According to the NZ Child Cancer Foundation, each week on average in New Zealand four children and teenagers are diagnosed with cancer. If you live in America or the UK, you will probably find statistics to be similar. When we think of cancer, we tend to think of the adult with breast, bowel or prostate cancer, and generally there will be an adult that we personally know or have heard of who has passed away from cancer.
But did you know, apart from accidents, that cancer is still unfortunately the most common cause of death of children in NZ ? In this article we will take a closer look at childhood cancer, look at some potential causes and outline a few strategies I have found useful of coping with and supporting a child with cancer.
Childhood cancer is not a condition that a natural therapist would generally treat, particularly the acute cancers such as leukaemia. I have always encouraged and offered support to children and teenagers afflicted with cancer, but have never interfered with their conventional oncology treatments. Things are looking good in NZ for children diagnosed with cancer today – the Child Cancer Foundation (CCF) mention on their website that around 80% of children with cancer are successfully treated in NZ.The tireless CCF Support Coordinators in each division around the country provide support to young people and their families during the course of their treatment.
An Emotional Roller Coaster
Childhood cancer is hard on the family, and the most common emotions that accompany cancer are fear, anxiety, depression, and anger. It is important for you to be effective in managing a child or teen with cancer. How will you handle any anger, fear, the anxiety and possibly the depression which come up from time to time? That is why it is important to identify how you feel, and make sure that you feel stable, can confide and are able to cope with the wide range of stresses and emotions you will experience during this time of your life.
It can become a real juggling act with the family spending time away from home, trying to share time between hospitals, an occupation as well as attending the needs of any siblings. Swedish research found that a longer time of treatment tended to be followed by poorer coping by parents, caregivers and the patients themselves. My advice therefore is to work out a treatment plan early on and enlist the help of friends or relatives to make it easier on you.
Some Cancer Causes Among Children And Teenagers
According to researchers, cancer is now the leading cause of death among teens and young adults after accidents in most developed countries. Among the 13 to 24-year-old age group in England, cancer rates have been increasing at a rate of 1.2 percent per year for the past two decades. The researchers mention genetic factors, lifestyle changes and exposure to toxins before birth as possible causes for the increase, but there are many more possibilities for the steady increase. Health spokeswoman for The Green Party, Sue Kedgley, mentioned in 2001 that the number of under 14-year-olds with cancer in NZ rose from 104 in 1990, to 153 in 1997. After learning of a 50% increase in childhood cancer cases in less than a decade, Ms. Kedgley rightly wants research into child cancer to become a priority in NZ. Here is a list of some of more likely and probably causes, which come up in various studies into children and cancer.
Most human research in cancer risk from exposure to toxins begins after the cancer is diagnosed. However, as chemicals and other toxins are increasingly saturating our environment, researchers are beginning to look at the effect of these environmental toxins, such as pesticides and PCBs, on the unborn child. At a conference held by the Children with Leukaemia charity in London in 2004, scientists presented findings that suggest childhood cancer may be promoted by environmental pollutants, particularly pesticides. In laboratory studies the Bristol University team showed pollutants were able to travel across the placenta to the unborn baby. They found compounds used as pesticides, such as DDT and other organo-chlorine compounds, readily crossed the placenta. Researcher Professor Alan Preece said: “What the findings show is that if the mother takes these [pesticide compounds] in food, they do get through to the foetus. “All we can assume is that, like everything else that a foetus is exposed to, they are more sensitive because the cells are all developing and turning over rapidly”. It makes sense to try to keep your child away from poisons and chemicals, but it is easy to forget to do this before conception and during pregnancy. Are you thinking about having a child? Then consider a detox first.
The polio vaccine seems ever more linked to cancers, especially in children. An additional problem contributing to the development of cancer is now occurring. This vaccine contained the SV40 virus known to cause malignancies. SV 40 has been identified in 43% of cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, 36.% of brain tumors, mesotheliomas and other malignancies. The Salk vaccine, which was contaminated by an estimated 40 viruses, had been given to more than 10 million persons when this discovery was made, and was very popular in the 50’s and 60-‘s. Do you still believe that vaccination is necessary to “prevent” illness? You may be getting more than you bargained for.
Inadequate Prenatal Nutrition
What a woman eats while pregnant can have the most profound effect on the future health of her child. Researchers have discovered that a mother’s diet can even alter her child’s gene functions, which plays a large role in the child’s susceptibility to diseases like cancer, stroke, diabetes, schizophrenia and others. It is vital that a pregnant woman receives adequate nutrition throughout all stages of pregnancy and breastfeeding. I am pretty well convinced that one of the most important dietary influences for prenatal nutrition is adequate omega-3 fats. And, according to American research, optimising your omega-3 fats will virtually guarantee that your baby is born full-term as well. And how many Kiwi babies are under weight and premature these days?
Pressure-Treated Wooden Playground Equipment
Some 90 percent of all outdoor wooden structures in New Zealand are made with CCA (copper, chromium, arsenic) pressure-treated wood. The preservative used to treat the wood contains arsenic–a known human carcinogen- that rubs off when the wood is touched, and H3 treated pine is full of arsenic. Burning CCA pressure treated wood does not destroy the arsenic. It is incredible, but a single 12 feet long x 6 inch square piece of pressure treated wood can contain enough arsenic to kill more than 100 adults. We have seen several cases of children with very high arsenic levels in their bodies (Hair Analysis) who were playing with the green timber. According to research, children tend to put their hands in their mouth about 16 times an hour while playing, so it is not hard to realise where there levels are coming from. Do not ever use this timber around where children play, and never burn treated pine off-cuts in your fireplace or in the BBQ. The NZ Environmental Risk Management Authority has found, “contrary to overseas studies, no health risks exist from treating timber with copper, chromium and arsenic”, a process known as CCA. But then again, when DDT was marketed to kill flies in the 1950’s, it too was labeled as “perfectly safe for humans”. Some timbers like redwood and cedar do not require this arsenic-containing preservative and are therefore not a concern. Plastic and metal play equipment should pose no risk – unless they are made in China (and therefore possibly coated in lead based paint).
Electricity Power Lines
Children who live near electricity power lines are at an increased risk of developing leukemia. One theory to why this occurs is that the high voltage lines emit charged particles called ions, which may then be inhaled. Also, children have more rapidly dividing cells than adults, which are much more susceptible to electro-magnetic radiation damage. While overseas investigations have found clear links between electromagnetic radiation and childhood leukemia and other forms of cancer, very little research has been done in New Zealand. NZ medical specialist Dr Robin Smart has been studying the relationship between power pylons and health effects, has studied over 100 medical papers and found strong links with overhead lines and health conditions like major depression, childhood leukemia – which is two or three times higher with kids living near the pylons – as well as breast cancer. Dr. Smart said the power limits in New Zealand were far too high. A long term (33 year) study in the UK involving 29, 000 children yielded some interesting results, children whose birth address was within 200 metres of an overhead power line had a 70% increased risk of leukemia. Children living 200 to 600 m away from power lines had a 20% increased risk. Are you still living near 400Kva power lines? Think again, you may want to move now rather than take your chances. I wonder how many power company executives live in South Auckland, right under the power lines? Another area not mentioned often enough is electric blankets for children. They have also been linked with, you guessed it, leukaemia.
CT scans are high in potentially dangerous radiation, and pose a significant threat to children. CT scans, and traditional X-rays, have been associated with cancer and heart disease. I recommend you avoid CT scans unless your or your child’s life depends upon it. MRIs are typically safer than CT scans. According to an alarming article found in an American X-Ray Journal in 2001 (see references)each year about 1.6 million children in USA get CT scans to the head and abdomen – and about 1,500 of those will die later in life of radiation-induced cancer. What’s more, CT (computed tomography) scans given to kids are typically calibrated for adults, so children absorb two to six times the radiation needed to produce clear images. Children have more rapidly dividing cells than adults, which are much more susceptible to radiation damage. Children also will live long enough for cancers to develop. Radiologists could turn down the X-rays without losing quality, and thus expose the children to less potentially cancer-causing radiation, but they typically don’t. Doctors use CT scans on children to search for cancers and ailments such as appendicitis and kidney stones. Then there’s also a huge number of little patients who don’t just receive one scan. One patient recently told me that she was horrified after her 8yr old boy was subjected to over 50 X-rays of his abdomen and chest to find out what was going on due to “a tummy pain”, and later at 13 yrs of age, he developed a major thyroid dysfunction (from too much X-ray exposure). Solution? Ask your radiologist to turn the X-Ray down to a more acceptable children’s level.
Natural Medicine And Cancer
A cancer researcher surveyed a total of 366 parents of children with cancer in America. Results indicated that 156 children (42.6%) had used complementary or alternative therapies, with herbal teas, plant extracts, relaxation/imagery strategies, vitamins, massage, diets, and therapeutic touch among the most frequently employed therapies. Most (68%) began using them while still on their medical cancer treatment. Most parents believed the therapies were beneficial (49%) or very beneficial (20%) to their child’s quality of life. No parent ascribed serious adverse effects to the complementary or alternative therapies. Most parents indicated that they initiated the use of complementary and alternative therapies in order to do everything possible for their child, or to boost the immune system. The most popular supplement used were multivitamins (49%) followed by trace elements, Omega 3 oils and specialised cancer supplements amongst which were herbal medicines.
Managing the dietary needs of a child with cancer can be a real challenge. Cancer tends to increase immensely the nutritional needs for protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and along with a wide variety of trace minerals. Nutritional requirements are thus high during cancer treatment and may lead to malnutrition. This is often unfortunately the very time when cancer patients are restricted many foods by some health care practitioners, often in an attempt to “starve the cancer”.
The patient’s weight certainly suffers as a result, particularly if the patient is undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. It is important that malnutrition be prevented by simply eating enough foods rich in nutrients and anti-oxidants. Whereas adequate nutrient supply will assist the body in rebuilding damaged cells, anti-oxidants may directly fight the cancer. I’m not for one to recommend a diet of take-away, junk foods or less than healthy, but I am also one to recommend that it is fine to break the rules with cancer.
A child with cancer will feel more normal if he or she is treated like a “normal” child, meaning that they don’t need to be treated like they are fragile. It is more important that you spend quality time with your child, and if this means buying them a soft serve ice cream and then you both enjoying one together at the playground then so be it. Is it really that important to be that analytical and fastidious about a child’s diet when they are going through chemotherapy and possibly radiation? I don’t think so, try not to be as stuffy, uptight and conservative about cancer treatment as many oncologists are in this country. It certainly won’t help your child feel any better, or increase their chances of recovery.
Childhood Cancer Supplement Recommendations
Emerging evidence from many studies has suggested that omega-3 fatty acids may have specific benefits for young cancer survivors, such as improving cachexia (wasting away when one has cancer), improving quality of life, and even enhancing the effects of some forms of treatment. Inclusion of foods that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids (e.g., fish, walnuts) in the diet of the cancer patient is necessary because their consumption is associated with a lower risk for cardiovascular diseases (as they age) and a lower overall mortality rate from cancer in general.
Neuroblastoma accounts for only about 10% of childhood cancers overall, but it is most common early in life. It is responsible for about half of all cancers in infants, and in some rare cases can even be seen on ultrasound before birth. A neuroblastoma develops from very primitive nervous system cells, usually in the abdomen. It is thought to form when these cells don’t mature into nerve cells as they normally should. Researchers found that daily multivitamin use particularly in the month before pregnancy was linked to an up to 47% decreased risk of neuroblastoma, and a 27% decreased risk of childhood brain tumours generally. The number of children who developed neuroblastoma dropped 60% in Canada after that country started adding the B vitamin folic acid to foods, according to researchers from Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto. An investigator into the link between nutritional medicine and childhood cancer writes: “based on research, one can estimate that maternal multivitamin supplementation may prevent 900 cases of pediatric leukemia and 300-400 cases of pediatric brain tumors annually in the United States”.
A prenatal supplement makes a lot of sense, there are many high-quality products on the market. Be wise and invest in a good multivitamin, and take one throughout pregnancy, along with a capsule or two daily of an Omega 3 supplement. And when your child has finished breast feeding, give them Omega 3 daily, along with a premium children’s multivitamin.
Cancer And Your Child’s Mental Health
By reducing your stress levels your coping skills increase. Talk to someone you trust, somebody who will support you. Remember, if you are highly stressed then your child will feel highly stressed. It is perfectly normal for you to feel anxious and highly stressed, especially in the early stages of the diagnosis and treatment, but you don’t want to project your stress onto your child. Try to deal with your feelings and anxieties away from your child, talk to a trusted friend.
Here now follow some of the best tips I can give you if your child does have cancer. I want you to be there for your child, regardless of the type of cancer, the severity, whatever. Just be there. It will make all the difference in the world if you are there, living in the moment with your son or daughter, emotionally, spiritually and physically.
Always stay positive and focused with your child. It is important to work on your own stress levels too, as you are probably busy and may be finding it hard to cope. Remember that kids are emotional sponges, they soak up how those feel around them very quickly and accurately. It you stay positive and focused, your child will too. Stress is inevitable and is sometimes a positive force. It is not the stress itself, but how your child copes with it that determines how their small bodies are affected. How they cope is largely dependent on their personalities and beliefs. And their personalities and belief systems are shaped to a large degree by their interaction at home and school with family members and friends. Does it not make sense to have a harmonious and loving home life for the child or teen with cancer?
Think about all your treatment options available to you and your child. I would recommend that you get a plastic folder with pockets and keep copies of all medical reports, all the practitioner visits whether they are medical and natural medicine treatments recommended. It will prove useful as all the relevant information regarding treatment, dietary recommendations, test results and more is all kept in one convenient location.
Make a plan on how you are going to proceed with treatment, whether you want to initially focus on medical treatment, then natural, the other way around or perhaps you are happy to combine both treatment programs simultaneously, which many parents do. Make sure you talk to your health-care professionals, and make it clear where you stand with natural medicine and conventional medicine.
Buy organic foods whenever possible, but don’t get overly paranoid about non organic produce. Try to grow at least your salad vegetables in summer. Consume free-range eggs and organic raised chicken over commercially raised chicken. Avoid (charred) barbecued foods. Children need plenty of protein in order to thrive, and high quality chicken, eggs and deep sea fish are great sources. Go easy on the dairy, but do let them have their treats from time to time.
Make your place, or your child’s room, a healing sanctuary. Remember to have fun with the family. Choose your child’s favourite music, make a list of your and their favourite places for solitude or relaxation, and purchase their favourite fruits, vegetables, suitable grains and ‘special’ foods well ahead of time. Essential oils are nice to burn and delightful when used to massage your child. . For goodness sakes, when I studied massage in the 1980’s, we were told to “avoid cancer patients, as you will increase the spread of cancer by massaging the body”. What a load of nonsense I thought at the time, and still do. The child with cancer needs love and attention like any other child, and what better way to show how much you care about someone than give them a massage?
Nutritional supplements are important, butstick to high-quality basics and don’t spend too much money here. Stay with a high quality Omega 3 supplement, and also a multi vitamin and mineral product. Give two to three times daily. Your love, compassion and commitment to your child’s welfare is the most important medicine. Steer well clear of any practitioner who tries to persuade you that your child “can be cured of cancer” with natural medicines, and that you need to stop all conventional treatments.
Minimise your child’s exposure to toxins and pollutants. Have your child’s hair tested for heavy metal contamination and complete a toxicity health questionnaire (ask your naturopath). Don’t use pesticides, garden or household chemicals around the house. The young cancer patient already has a compromised immune system, which is only further hampered by chemicals. A detox is not appropriate when your child is receiving chemo or radio therapy. Wait until later, and only then when the little patient can handle a detox. Be sure to get professional advice, and do not attempt to detox your child without help of your health-care professional.
Prepare to divulge your plans to family and friends to enlist any support (if any desired) in your efforts. There are people out there who will help you, don’t be afraid (or embarrassed) to ask for any help when required.
Allow your child to be assertive and find meaning in stressful circumstances. A researcher studied assertiveness. His finding was that people who assert their needs and feelings have stronger immune responses, and the ability to overcome a range of diseases usually associated with immune dysfunction. It was noted that the ability to find meaning in “stressful circumstances” promoted a stronger immune enhancement.
Do youallow your child to confide, give them plenty of special time, or do you simply tell them to “shut-up” when you are too busy to focus on their needs? A psychologist, who studied the person’s capacity to confide and its effect on health, found that children who confide their feelings, traumas and secrets to others close to them and to themselves have much healthier psychological profiles, greater immune responses, and far fewer incidences of illness. This again confirms what we have know for ages – that a healthy mind will help to stimulate a healthy body. Children who are strongly motivated to form relationships with others based on unconditional love have greatly enhanced immune functionality and reduced illnesses.
Most importantly,begin to develop unshakeable faith — faith in yourself, complete faith in your ability to fully support your child, faith in your child’s body’s ability to heal. No matter how you proceed and progress, always keep in mind your main intention, which is for your child to heal and become well again. Caring for your child with cancer may be one of the most challenging and difficult times in your life, but it can also be a time for personal transformation and positive personal growth for yourself. It is all up to you.
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