By Peter Tah & Olives Akem
Childhood cancer survivors joined the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Services (CBCHS) and her partners in cancer care to commemorate the 2018 International Childhood Cancer Day (ICCD) on February 15. ICCD is global collaborative campaign to raise awareness about childhood cancers, express support for children and adolescents with cancer and their families and the survivors too.
CBC Health Services’ Childhood Cancer Program used this year’s event to reiterate its commitment towards treating and instilling hope for cancer kids in Cameroon. Emphasis was also placed on the fact that these children deserve the best possible medical and psychosocial care, regardless of country of origin, race, financial status or social class.
The Coordinator of the CBC Health Services Childhood Cancer Program, Glenn Mbah who himself is a nurse, pointed out that childhood cancer deaths are avoidable. He noted that this is possible only with timely and accurate diagnosis, availability and access to quality essential medicines as well as proper treatment and care.
Honesty Kimbo, now 21 years old, is a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma in 2004. The Level 1 Veterinary student from Belo in the Northwest Region of Cameroon explains that she initially developed an inflammation on her jaw. “When I got to the hospital, I was told it was Burkitt’s lymphoma. I was placed on treatment for over three months at Mbingo Baptist Hospital”, she narrated.
Thanks to the early diagnosis of her condition, Honesty was treated of her cancer. She is very pleased to be alive and pursuing her dreams. She has now become a Childhood Cancer ambassador in her own right, as she advices everyone who has an inflammation on any part of his/her body to seek medical attention immediately.
Bernice Akem is another survivor of Burkitt’s lymphoma. She was treated of the disease in one of the CBCHS hospitals. Bernice recounts with joy, “When I was diagnosed with cancer, I knew I was going to die. But when I got to the hospital and was placed on treatment in 2014, it took just three months and I was fine. I had to go home and only returned for checkup”. She adds that her parents are amazed every day to see her alive.
Every three minutes a child dies of cancer according to Childhood Cancer International. Given that children are our future, there is a need for all to take an immediate action towards eliminating cancers in children.
Anita Chefor, a teacher and mother of a survivor says, “I felt like the world had come to an end when I was told that my son had kidney cancer. “I wept and felt like I had lost my child already” she tells us. But today, Anita with all smiles recounts that the treatment she received at Mbingo Baptist Hospital is central to her son’s speedy recovery. Drawing lessons from her son’s condition, Anita advices parents whose children have cancer to turn up for treatment.
This year’s theme for the International Childhood Cancer Day (ICCD) is “Advancing Cure, Transforming Care, Instilling Hope”. Instilling hope is very crucial in the work of the CBCHS Childhood Cancer program as most people in the communities do not know that childhood cancers are often curable.
In his ICCD address, the Director of CBCHS, Prof Tih Pius Muffih said, “Too many children and adolescents have no hope to overcome these cancers simply because they were born in a country entrenched in poverty resulting in late diagnosis, lack of access to life-saving essential medicines and appropriate treatment”.
Prof Tih Pius emphasized that, “There can be no more ‘but’. All children in the world deserve hope for a cure – no matter where they live – not more excuses. We can no longer sweep this issue “under the carpet.”
Children who have had to undergo surgery and or intense treatment procedures require very close follow-up.
Ishatou Yusufa, 14, is miraculously recovering from a cancerous tumour on her right eye. She lives with her family in Kituya, one of the most remote villages in the Northwest Region of Cameroon. With no access road to her community, the palliative care nurses have to trek for two hours to see her, after driving up to a point for over 80km on a very rough road.
Palliative home care visits like the one to Ishatou’s community are undertaken every other week to refill patients’ drugs especially the pain control ones. The children and their families are also given spiritual and psychosocial support following a holistic approach to care which the program has adopted.
According to Dr. Francine Kouya, Internist and Oncologist at Mbingo Baptist Hospital, one of the cancer treatment centres, it is thanks to efforts like these that the cure rate of childhood cancers with the CBCHS stands at 50 per cent
Even so, program staff continue to emphasize the essence of early diagnosis to survival from childhood cancer. They are also educating people to know that lumps, prolonged unrelieved fever, unexplained bleeding, white spot in the eye, difficulty walking or less of bowel and urine control are some of the early warning signs.
The work of the CBCHS Childhood Cancer Programm has been made possible thanks to the support of partners including World Child Cancer and BTMAT. Sadly, childhood cancer continues to be the leading cause of non-communicable related death in children throughout the world. Globally, more than 300,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year with about 400 new cases in Cameroon alone.