Staying Healthy Via Virtual Classroom

By: Erin Tate
By: Erin Tate

Thanks to a $450,000 federal grant, Kelly Coffman is once again able to take part in school with his classmates.

Kelly is a second grader at John Wayland Elementary School. But since he was diagnosed with cancer last year, his contact with classmates has been limited.

Now, thanks to James Madison University, Kelly interacts with his peers through video conferencing one hour a week. His mom, Kitra, said she'd like for Kelly to eventually participate on a daily basis from home.

"This is just so important because the cure for cancer is hundreds of years away and for a seven- to eight-year-old, they need to be close and connected to other children and work, too," she said.

Kelly isn't the only one benefiting from the grant. Eleven teachers from the Valley are learning how to use new technology to teach.

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Cancer and Kids

Cancer is a group of many related diseases that begin in the body’s cells. The body is made up of many types of cells. Normally, cells grow and divide to produce more cells only when the body needs them. Sometimes, however, cells keep dividing when new cells are not needed. These extra cells form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.

Tumors can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are not cancerous. They can often be removed and usually do not come back. Cells from benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body.

Malign tumors are cancerous. Cancer cells can break away from a malignant tumor and enter the bloodstream or the lymphatic system. That is how cancer spreads from the original cancer site to form new tumors in other organs.

Children can get cancer in the same parts of the body as adults do, but some types of cancer are more common in children. The most common form of childhood cancer is leukemia. Leukemia is cancer of the blood. It develops in the bone marrow.

Other cancers often found in children are brain tumors, childhood lymphomas, Hodgkin's disease, Wilms' tumors, neuroblastomas, osteogenic sarcomas, Ewing's sarcomas, retino-blastomas, rhabdomyosarcomas and hepatoblastomas.

Children's cancers do not always act like, get treated like, or respond like adult cancers. Childhood cancers can occur suddenly, without early symptoms, and have a high rate of cure.

Treatment

To plan the best treatment, the doctor will look at a child's general health, type of cancer, stage of the disease, age, and many other factors. Based on this information, the doctor will prepare a treatment plan that outlines the exact type of treatment, how often a child will receive treatment, and how long it will last.

Each child with cancer has a treatment plan that is chosen just for that child; even children with the same type of cancer may receive different treatments.

The types of treatment used most often to treat cancer are: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell transplantation . Doctors use these treatments to destroy cancer cells. Depending on the type of cancer, children may have one kind of treatment or a combination of treatments. Most children receive a combination of treatments, called combination therapy.

Treatments for cancer often cause unwanted or unpleasant side effects such as nausea, hair loss, and diarrhea. Side effects occur because cancer treatment that kills cancer cells can hurt some normal cells, too.

Not every child gets every side effect, and some children get few, if any. Also, how serious the side effects are varies from child to child, even among children who are receiving the same treatment.

School and Friends

Children who have cancer need and like to be with others their age, and keeping up with schoolwork makes them feel good about themselves. Children often worry about how their friends and classmates will act toward them, especially if they have missed a lot of school or return with obvious physical changes. Other students are usually accepting, but they may have questions. There are programs that send nurses to the child's classroom to talk about the child's cancer and treatment with classmates and teachers.

After Treatment

Because of better research and treatment, children who have cancer are living longer than they used to, and their quality of life is better. Although they lead normal lives, survivors of cancer have some concerns that other people may not have. For example, they must take extra-special care of their health and may have problems obtaining insurance.

Research

The National Cancer Act, passed by Congress in 1971, made cancer research a national priority. Since that time, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the lead Federal agency for cancer research, has collaborated with top researchers and facilities across the country to conduct innovative research leading to progress in cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment. These efforts have resulted in a decrease in the overall cancer death rate, and have helped improve and extend the lives of millions of Americans.

Source: http://www.cancer.gov/cancerinfo/youngpeople/page1 (National Cancer Institute Web site) contributed to this report.


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