September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

As someone who has spent the past 15 years working with children affected by cancer in Nevada, I know we have made a lot of progress. But, unless you’ve been affected by childhood cancer, you may not know just how far Las Vegas and the State of Nevada have come. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and although I won’t be satisfied until childhood cancer is cured, there are many reasons to be optimistic and to be encouraged if your child is one of the roughly 16,000 children diagnosed each year with cancer in this country.

Talk to anyone for more than five minutes about living in Nevada and you are bound to hear the complaints about the state of Nevada’s healthcare options, as well as its limitations. Certainly, it can always be improved. But here are a few things to keep in mind.

I know for a fact children affected by Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), the most common form of childhood cancer — or the many other types of cancers we treat at the Children’s Specialty Center of Nevada — are getting much better treatment today, then they were ten years ago. That is the result of increasing collaboration between doctors and a focus on the important clinical trials that our patients have access to through the Children’s Oncology Group — the leading collection of childhood cancer treatment centers and physicians around the world.

In our commitment to meet the needs of our community, we have created the largest concentration of board-certified pediatric hematology-oncology providers in Nevada. Our patients come from across the state and beyond. We treat them whether or not they have medical insurance or have the financial ability to pay for the treatment. We have been told many times it can't be done using a nonprofit model. But here we are ten years later, bigger and better than ever.

We’re continuing to innovate whenever we can. Just last year we welcomed Dr. Kanyalakshmi Ayyanar to our practice. She headed up the childhood neuro-oncology program at the University of Louisville. Since brain tumors are the second most common type of childhood cancer, we knew our patients would feel comfortable having someone with her extensive skill and expertise available in our clinic. There is no other physician in Nevada with her experience in treating brain or spinal cord tumors. Dr. Ayyanar's background and experience will reduce the need for Nevada families to travel out of state to seek an expert.

The National Cancer Institute says the overall childhood cancer survival rate is now above 80 percent; some specific childhood cancers are even higher! With more children and young adults classified as surviving cancer, we are placing an increasing emphasis on helping those survivors stay healthy. That’s why we created Nevada’s first Long-Term Follow-Up Clinic for childhood cancer survivors. The truth is, the chemotherapy, radiation or surgery that saves the life of a child can also leave them susceptible to “late effects” when they grow older. That’s why two years after cancer treatment ends, we suggest patients have an annual exam in our Long-Term Follow-Up Clinic. This visit is where patients receive specific information about their individual side effects that could occur years in the future as a result of treatments. We put all this information in a laminated binder so these survivors who move away or see other medical professionals in the future, can share this information accurately and stay healthy.

Of course, we never thought creating all this would be easy. It wasn’t. It still isn’t. If the childhood cancer survival rate is just over 80 percent, that means about 20 percent of patients don’t survive. I know the pain those families endure, and it still breaks my heart.

There were many roadblocks from the beginning. Creating the type of specialized clinic myself and Dr. Jonathan Bernstein had in mind in 2007, is not something many people have done. There was no ready-made guide showing how to create a foundation and clinics like ours in Nevada. In fact, before Cure 4 The Kids Foundation was awarded its nonprofit 501(c)(3) status, the State of Nevada had to approve legislation allowing for the creation of our medically based foundation, and ultimately our two clinics.

As we look back during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, I know the hard work was totally worth it.

Annette Logan is President and CEO of Cure 4 The Kids Foundation