I consciously joined the Navy just before the first Gulf War because I had no children and did not see the need for those who had families to risk the consequences of service. Friends and colleagues came back diagnosed (as adults) with pediatric cancers. They did not receive medals, rather a diagnosis that typically resulted in an amputated limb.
I went back to school, as a disabled veteran, to become a nurse to care for those who often have little voice in their prognosis. In the pediatric ICU at Rush, I have cared for children dealing with the ramifications of a cancer diagnosis. I encounter these brave souls as I teach our nursing students in the community.
In the military, one obviously faces danger and encounters enemies both foreign and domestic — often on a daily basis. That is what we signed up for — what we pledged our loyalty to. Children (and their families, however defined) never enlisted in a diagnosis that begins with the big “C.”
In the United States, cancer is the leading cause of death by disease past infancy. One out of 285 U.S. children are diagnosed with cancer before they turn 20 years old. In 2015, about 10,380 children under the age of 15 in the United States alone will be diagnosed with cancer.
I don’t know about you, but for me that’s a heartbreaking statistic. It’s hard to think that so many families will be faced with the possible reality of losing their child before they have a chance to graduate high school, get married, or have children of their own.
Even if pediatric cancer patients successfully fight their cancer, two-thirds of them must endure long-term effects of treatment such as hearing loss, learning disabilities, infertility, heart disease, second cancers, and the list goes on.
Another unpalatable reality is the fact that less than 4 percent of funds for cancer research is allotted specifically toward pediatric cancer research.
Norman Prestine was 88 years old when he was diagnosed with two cancerous masses in his chest in 2001. He came to Rush to undergo surgery to remove them, and he’s come back each of the 13 years since then.
During his recent annual follow-up visit, the hale 101-year-old said hello to his surgeon, Penfield Faber, MD, a relative youth at 84. “It’s always a pleasure to see somebody you’ve operated on for cancer who’s alive and doing well,” says Faber, an emeritus professor of thoracic surgery.
Prestine’s longevity is all the more remarkable for his ability to undergo major surgery in his late 80s, which Faber also performed after first carefully assessing his condition. “He was physiologically much younger than his stated age,” the doctor says. “He was working out. He had all the physical parameters of a younger man. It was apparent that from the shape he was in that would withstand the procedure.”
Prestine attributes his longevity to the basics — eating right and exercising. He walks half an hour on a stair climber in the morning and another 30 minutes on a treadmill in the evening, and eats “everything within reason.”
He was accompanied on his visit to Rush by his wife, Nancy, 86. The couple, who have known each other since the 1960s, married in 1993 after each of their first spouses of more than 40 years passed away. The Prestines live in their own home on Chicago’s northwest side and keep busy with seniors club activities.
Faber performed surgery for more than 50 years before he set aside his scalpel in 2006, retiring from clinical care altogether the next year. But he still continues to teach surgery residents.
By Carlos Olvera
It’s a question I get asked a lot these days.
Everyone agrees that the mustache is not the best look for me, but not everyone knows the reason behind it. Every November, also known as Movember, men and women join together to raise awareness and funds for men’s health. The Movember Foundation aims to increase early cancer detection, diagnosis and ultimately reduce the number of preventable deaths.
So what triggered my decision to participate in this campaign? Over 15 years ago, my dad was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal, prostate and bladder cancer. He never went for his routine colonoscopy. For years he experienced rectal bleeding but didn’t think much of it. He thought it was just hemorrhoids and he never mentioned the symptoms to his primary care physician.
Midwest Orthopaedics is an ongoing sponsor of the event, which has raised funds for cancer research at Rush since 2012. I am very familiar with the swimming community — my daughter Morgan graduated from Michigan State University and swam there for four years, as well as four years at Downers Grove North High School. During that time, I was at almost all of Morgan’s swim events. What’s more, I am a nurse practitioner in orthopedic oncology, so there was a logical connection.
It made sense for me to be involved with the Swim Across America Chicago event, but I’ll admit that I barely swim in a pool, let alone in Lake Michigan. But, of course, I became Captain Patty.
Luckily for me, the swim is a noncompetitive race — no triathlon clawing or scratching — and the half-mile swim parallels the beach, which means the water is shallow and makes the race doable for all skill levels. For those more proficient swimmers, you can swim up to three miles. It is way easier than any chemotherapy treatment, any radiation treatment, or any surgical procedure and rehabilitation that my cancer patients have gone through. We even have former cancer patients on the team. Continue reading
Marco Contreras proposed to Cristina Tecanhuehue around 9 p.m. on June 25. She said yes, and they were married the following afternoon in a small, intimate ceremony.
It was a bittersweet moment for a young couple that had been dating for two years. Their wedding and all the preparations — even Contreras’ proposal — took place at Rush University Medical Center, where Tecanhuehue was being treated for cervical cancer.
On July 1, five days after the ceremony, the 28-year-old Tecanhuehue passed away. Her new husband was at her bedside, holding her hand.
“We had the wedding to comfort her and give her some closure and to give us some closure,” says Tecanhuehue’s uncle, Javier Torres.
He praised the Rush staff for making it possible. “This is the right profession for them, because they show compassion,” Torres said. “The quality of the organization and the people they have as staff has been a blessing for our family.”
By Joseph Lee
In the United States, a child under the age of 20 is diagnosed with cancer every three minutes. So in the time it takes to read this piece, a family will be faced with the very real possibility of losing their child, as there are many cancers where progress towards a cure is still very limited. And even those that are cured of their cancer, their battle continues with chronic health problems or other life-threatening conditions.
While the government and foundations continue to invest in adult cancer research, childhood cancers are left to fend for themselves. In fact, all types of childhood cancers receive only 4 percent of the total U.S. federal funding for cancer research, with pharmaceutical companies investing even less.
So the question becomes if not us, then who? If not now, then when? Should we wait until more children are stripped of the opportunity to go to school or fall in love? Or ask more parents to stay strong while their children go through grueling treatments or are lost altogether?
This is where St. Baldrick’s comes into play. Through the help of dedicated physicians, such as Dr. Paul Kent, students, families, friends, patients and survivors, we seek to close the funding gap. Through events across the country, with head shaving being the premier event, over $30 million was raised in 2013.