Nneka Nwaobi is a medical doctor, she runs an NGO that caters for children with childhood cancer. In this wit me, she tells the sorry tale of the increase in childhood cancers.
This interview was conducted before the organisation’s special fund-raising luncheon held in February…
You may be touched to contribute to this good cause.
Tell me about yourself and what you do.
My name is Dr. Nneka Nwaobi. I am a medical doctor and I run an NGO, Children Living with Cancer Foundation. Ours is mainly an NGO that caters for childhood cancer victims and their families; because when a child has cancer, it’s just not the child that is involved, the whole family scene changes. The parents are involved and the siblings are also traumatized. So, we try to give a holistic approach to childhood cancer.
When you say childhood cancer, what do you mean?
This is cancer in anybody less than eighteen years of age.
How common are these kinds of cancer? Someone is supposed to have cancer when the person is growing older.
No, that is not true. We have seen children as young as nine weeks old who had cancer. I have seen one in America that was diagnosed of cancer when the child was just two weeks old and it is very common. The matron here works with the children and she works with LUTH. As we speak now, there are at least ten children with cancer on admission at LUTH.
There are more out there because when you come for chemotherapy, you go home after the therapy. So, those are the only children with cancer at LUTH; those are the ones on admission at this time. There are others in their homes and it’s quite common. Unfortunately, we will always sweep things under the carpet and hide such things from the public. That is why it seems as if it’s rear.
It did not use to be like this…
It used to be like this. I remember, as a medical student, I met quite a handful of them and I think we are getting more awareness now; people are not hiding as they used to before.
Nigerians hide everything – even headache. You can now imagine a child with cancer, the stigma and all that comes with it is what they use to think about; not even how to look for a solution. They don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to be pitied.
What are the common things that pre-dispose one to cancer?
In different regions, there are different kinds of cancer but even in the same centres, it changes. At a time, you might just see a lot of leukemia.
What is leukemia?
It is cancer of the white blood cell. There are quite a lot. There are rear ones that we don’t see as much Where in Africa as they see abroad. Burkets lymphoma is mainly in the tropical region where. The Bookies lymphoma is a lymphoma that has to do with the lymph’s nodes but as opposed to abroad, where they have Hutchins and non-Hutchins lymphoma, in Africa there is more of Bookies because of malaria.
It is said to be associated with malaria or is in malaria endemic regions. In Lagos here, we normally have more of jaw bookies. In Ibadan, I suppose they have more of abdominal bookies. So, in different regions, there are different types of cancer that is of dominance.
What is Burkets lymphoma?
It is the name of a particular type of cancer. Burkets lymphoma is a type of cancer and was named after the person who discovered it. Burkets was working with one Dr. Thomas in Africa.
Burkets lymphoma is actually very curable. In Cameroon, there is one Dr. Hensling, a South African, who is doing quite a lot and he has come out to say that he has the cure for Burkets lymphoma with less than $100 (hundred dollars) but they get their drugs subsidized and the hospital says it’s free. If you included that, may be that is where you get the $100.
Is it life threatening?
Yes it is, that is if left untreated. Most times, it is not the lymphoma that kills the children; rather, it is the complications that does. Once lymphoma regresses, the parents think that it is gone and they don’t come (to the hospital). Actually, Burkets is one of the easiest we treat and wimps stoma, it is found on time, Wimps is kidney cancer and we have had success story on that.
Is there any special knowledge on how this cancer comes about, especially in children?
Nobody has been able to tell (specifically) but research is still going on. Unfortunately, most research is done on adults, not many are done on children.
In Nigeria here, unfortunately, it’s something that is not even talked about but elsewhere, they talk about heredity, hypertension, radiation and things like that. For me, heredity is a bit far fetched because, the child has to survive childhood before the child can have children. Most of the children that have cancer are said to have the second cancer later on and their children may have it but it is not because one’s father or mother has cancer that automatically the child or children that come from that union will have cancer too.
There is hypothesis but there is no empirical evidence to back that up. There are predisposing factors like Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome is associated with leukemia. So, we have those kinds of associations.
Is there any way of preventing cancer in children?
One can not prevent any kind of cancer but what one can do is early detection, then prompt and appropriate treatment. If detected early and wrong treatment is given, obviously you will not gain anything. So, what we really need to do is to get the message across to people that this ailment does exist and people should come early for check up. I have a friend whose child had wimp stoma when she was a year old and was brought in for treatment. Now, the child is almost seven years old. When a child survives after five years of treatment, that child is said to be cured of that cancer. So hopefully, this child is said to be cured. We have signs and symptoms that one can look out for.