My five year old son, whom I affectionately call The Dominator, recently learned one of his preschool buddies has just been diagnosed with leukemia. His classmate and friend, Logan, had missed an entire week of school, and a letter home from the school broke the news to his classmates.
The Dominator is your typical first born. He's a leader, follows direction well, is very responsible, and he is always concerned about others. There is so much change going on in his young life right now, and this was just one more thing weighing on my boy's young mind. Is Logan going to be alright? Is he going to die? Can I get sick like that too? What is leukemia?
I really had no idea what to say. I floundered, and I'm sure I probably confused The Dominiator even more. I didn't know anything about leukemia. All I knew is that it was a form of cancer. So I did some digging. Here is what I found:
* Leukemia refers to cancers of the white blood cells. When a child has leukemia, large numbers of abnormal white blood cells are produced in the bone marrow. These abnormal white cells crowd the bone marrow and flood the bloodstream, but they cannot perform their proper role of protecting the body against disease because they are defective.
* Leukemia is the most common cancer in children and adolescents. It accounts for about one third of all cancers in children under age 15.
* Although there is a genetic factor, and scientists are learning about environmental factors that might affect the likelihood of a child developing leukemia, most leukemias arise from noninherited mutations in the genes of growing blood cells. Because these errors occur randomly and unpredictably, there is currently no effective way to prevent most types of leukemia.
* Treatment includes chemotherapy, which is a method of using drugs to kill the cancerous cells, and to keep them from dividing. The drugs are normally injected intravenously, through the spinal column, or directly into an organ. Oral drugs are also used in combination.
* The 5 year survival rate for those with acute lymphocytic leukemia (bone marrow leukemia) has increased to 85% thanks to advances in medicine and science.
* The 5 year survival rate for those with acute myelogenous leukema (myleoid cell leukemia) has also increased, up to 52%.
The Dominator's last day of preschool was just this past Thursday, and Logan was allowed to visit his classmates just for a few minutes. Although chemotherapy is such a difficult and draining treatment physically and mentally, chances are very good that Logan's cancer will go into remission.
Now that I've done my research, I feel much more educated on the matter, and I'll be able to speak to him about leukemia more intelligently. I've got some statistics, quotes from the American Cancer Society, and some facts from several pediatric oncologists.
But tomorrow, when we talk about his friend's illness...I will just talk to my son about hope.
National Cancer Institute
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
Leukemia Research Foundation