We like to think that childhood cancer is so rare it will never touch us or our friends. But here in Switzerland, every month, the equivalent of an entire classroom of children is diagnosed with cancer. About a year ago, on a sunny day in September, our four year old Elliot became one of them.
We discovered the cancer one morning after Elliot’s bath, I noticed a lump on his stomach and my instincts told me to bring him right away to our pediatrician in Rolle. The look on her face as she examined him told us this was serious, but we still had no idea… She sent us to the Nyon hospital for an ultrasound, which showed a 15cm tumour on his kidney, and we were then transferred to CHUV in Lausanne. How do I begin to describe those first few days to you? I can’t. But I can tell you that another mom is probably going through it right now. The CHUV in Lausanne gets about 50 new cases of children with cancer every year. The HUG in Geneva is about the same. That’s two per week here on our doorstep. The 11th floor of CHUV is a quite pretty area, very big, and mostly filled with kids with cancer. They have ride-on vehicles in the hallways and little bald kids racing around with everyone jumping out of their way, often with parents running behind rolling the I.V. their kid is hooked up to, trying to catch up.
The staff there is amazing; they work short staffed, very long hours, and under extreme stress while remaining smiling and optimistic. The two doctors who greeted us at 8:30am on that fateful September day last year were still there at 10pm to help us cope with the news: stage 4 cancer of the kidney. The nurses had to deal with an Elliot who had decided not to cooperate with anyone (back then, he screamed in “pain” even when they checked his blood pressure… Oh how he has grown since then!)
Elliot went through a difficult year of treatment, including surgery to remove his kidney, radiotherapy, and 10 months of chemotherapy. He finished treatment on July 2nd and is now in remission and doing great. He started school and absolutely loves it. This is all thanks to the fact that in his case, the clinical trial he was on was extremely successful. A year ago we were given a worst-case diagnosis and today we watch our child run around at recess with all the other kids, looking no different than anyone else.
During the many long days we spent at the hospital, we met many other parents and kids also fighting for survival, also in shock that this could happen to them. Some are not as lucky as Elliot, because in some cases, there is still not enough known about how to treat their cancers. But there are some very promising research projects, happening right here in Switzerland, that could change all that. Unfortunately, these projects are underfunded and to move them along we need to act now. These kids can’t wait.
Together with other families I have met along the way I have created a wall calendar featuring photos of our children, a tribute to their strength and courage. We will sell these calendars and all profits will go to Force Fondation. This foundation works directly with some of the doctors who treated Elliot.
Funding for new treatment would have a direct impact on the kids sitting in their hospital beds right now. I cannot stress enough how dedicated these oncologists are, only a month ago I was on the phone with one of the doctors at CHUV because I had a small question about Elliot’s CT scan results (important to me, but in the grand scheme of things probably not exactly critical compared to some of her other cases). This doctor took the time to phone me and patiently talk to me, she understands the importance of this small act despite her overloaded schedule as the head of pediatric oncology in Lausanne and president of the board of Force Fondation. I have seen this same doctor speak at a childhood cancer research conference recently, and her greatest wish is one thing: more funding for research. I can imagine that she has had to have some very difficult conversations with parents, that she has had to deal with some very very sad moments. I agree with her that these tragedies could be reduced if more tests could be done on new treatment strategies.
Thanks to the advances in research, the cure rate for pediatric cancer has gone from 0-10% when I was a kid, to about 75% now. These are great advances, but more research needs to be done. In Switzerland, 3 out of every 4 kids will be cured. For that fourth child, we need to keep the research going.
There is one thing you will notice as you look at the photos of the children on this calendar: they are all smiling. These kids are amazing – they have all gone through (or in many cases are still going through) some very difficult treatments, and yet they have the courage and strength to keep smiling and looking forward to another day. An inspiration to us all.
The calendars cost 20chf each, plus 2chf postage (or we can arrange a pick up/drop off if you would like several). If you would like to place an order, please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for your support!!
Nicole is a mother of three boys and a founding member of Moms-in-Vaud. You can read her personal blog at www.nicolescobie.com