Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Pediatric cancer, LFS style

September is pediatric cancer awareness month, something that we have quite a bit of experience with, thanks to LFS.

With many inherited cancer predisposition syndromes, like BRCA, there is an ethical debate about testing children, who are unlikely to develop cancer until later in life. With Li-Fraumeni Syndrome (LFS), half of all cancers occur in childhood, so there is a real benefit to testing and screening minors. While the emotional burden is heavy, screening can save a child's life.  The Ramers have personal experience with this, having discovered four of the six cancers in my children, not due to concerning symptoms, but because we were armed with the knowledge found in genetic testing.  We were looking for cancer, before it found and overwhelmed us.

Through routine screening, physicians discovered two brain tumors, metastatic melanoma and acute myeloid leukemia in my children over the past five years, prior to any symptoms developing.  Early detection offered the advantage of less complicated brain surgeries for Lauren.  Consequently, my daughter's cancer diagnosis has not slowed her down. Lauren is an honor student in high school, in the marching band and she is currently running cross country.  I am so grateful for these blessings.

My son Brent has had a tougher run with his three cancers.  He has endured well over 30 surgeries, months and months spent in hospital, chemo, radiation, bone marrow transplant, immunotherapy, and epigenetic therapy. He has worked incredibly hard with his doctors, finally achieving a well deserved remission. I am proud to say that he is applying for National Honor Society and has returned to school for the first time in a year and a half. However, had either the melanoma or the AML progressed further, prior to his diagnosis, he might not have had the same treatment options.

Today, we are so grateful and yes, even hopeful.
  • The Toronto Protocol, the guide that helped our doctors find these cancer early, was published just months before our diagnosis.  It has made a difference in outcome for us, and it showed up just in time. 
  • We are incredibly fortunate in our team at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital. I could never properly express how we have been touched by people there who care for our family, and in a way have become part of our family.  I am so grateful that they are willing to think outside of the box.
  • We recognize the diligent effort of cancer researchers worldwide who doggedly work to make this condition even more manageable. All advances in oncology benefit the LFS community because we are at higher risk for all forms of cancer.
  • I am encouraged by the recommendations of the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon panel which were revealed today.  Among other things, they urge that the research on the drivers of pediatric cancer be intensified and provide strong support for immunotherapy research, which is not DNA toxic. Brent got his latest cancer, a therapy induced AML, from the DNA-toxic chemotherapy he received to treat osteosarcoma. I stewed (kind of bitterly) in that fact for quite some time. We can do better, and will.

This brings hope that our future will be brighter than some very dark days that we have experienced. Lauren and Brent have had cancer simultaneously, on two different occasions. In 2011, Lauren had a brain tumor as Brent battled osteosarcoma.  Again in 2015, Lauren headed back to neurosurgery while Brent did chemotherapy for leukemia, preparing for bone marrow transplant with his brother Alex as his donor. Twice within a month, the Ramers had two rooms on the pediatric oncology floor, which sounds completely ridiculous.

This is pediatric cancer LFS style in its current state.  But I know that working together, it will get better. I am really looking forward to helping with that work.