In September 2018, at the launch of the new POGO Pediatric Oncology Satellite Clinic at Peterborough Regional Health Centre (PRHC), Theresa Serracino-Inglott, husband Mario and son Anthony spoke on behalf of the parents and young patients who will be receiving care.
Last year in late August, Anthony was gearing up to start his Grade 11 year when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Anthony spent most of his first six months at SickKids hospital because of complications and an extremely tough protocol for his high-risk diagnosis. Throughout the past year – and more so in the last six months – the Pediatric Outpatient or POP Clinic at PRHC has been our second home.
In April, Anthony was here for supportive care close to 20 days, and every day he was greeted with a smile and the exceptional care we have come to know from Shay Cannon and the POP Clinic Team. This was such a relief because as parents of children with a cancer diagnosis, we are continually being bombarded with difficult and gut-wrenching fears – and leaving the safety of SickKids Hospital is one of them.
Having to take your child to a new place for their care and allowing unfamiliar medical staff to provide treatment leaves us parents feeling vulnerable and scared – but once we walked through the doors of the POP Clinic and met Shay and the POP Clinic team, our fears subsided. Anthony immediately made a connection with the staff that has only strengthened over the months. Being closer to home to attend to such things as his fevers and blood work has meant a lot to Anthony. When he was admitted with a fever and had to stay at PRHC for more than a couple of days, it meant that his friends could easily come and keep him company to pass the time.
Throughout this time, the POP Clinic team was already beginning the transition to become an official POGO Satellite Clinic, which included staff training in all of the specialized areas of care we knew Anthony would need.
Now that this is an official POGO Satellite site, I can’t help but think of “future POGO families” in our area. Perhaps today, the news of the new clinic may not even register, but when they are burdened with their child’s diagnosis, they will have these things to ease their journey:
Having a POGO Clinic close to us makes life as a parent a whole lot easier. Feeling financially strapped is a common thread among families of children with cancer and satellite clinics give some relief to that. The shorter distance helps us save money on gas for the car, the need to eat out, motel costs, and childcare needed for siblings.
Anthony has already benefitted from shorter clinic visits. This is important because as a teen with cancer, many occasions have been missed because of treatment. Having the accessibility of the POGO Clinic gets him back to his friends who play a very important part in his recovery.
Parents of children with cancer certainly would have never chosen this path for our children, but because this is where we find ourselves, I want to say how grateful we are to POGO and to Peterborough Regional Health Centre for making it possible for families like ours to have an official POGO Satellite Clinic right in our community. We can’t thank you enough for easing the burden by keeping many aspects of our child’s cancer treatment closer to home. Thank you.
New POGO Satellite Clinic brings care closer to home for children with cancer in Peterborough area
On Monday, September 24, the Pediatric Oncology (POGO) Satellite Clinic at Peterborough Regional Health Centre (PRHC) officially opened its doors to provide care for children with cancer right in their community.
For these patients and their families, care closer to home means a reduction in travel time, costs to receive care elsewhere are avoided, and less loss of income and separation from home and community, all while maintaining confidence that their child is receiving the best quality care.
“Having a POGO clinic close to us makes life as a parent a whole lot easier,” says Theresa Serracino-Inglott, whose son Anthony is currently receiving treatment at PRHC after being diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in August 2017. “Feeling financially strapped is a common thread among families of children with cancer, and these satellite clinics give some relief to that. I want to say how grateful we are to POGO and to Peterborough Regional Health Centre for taking on this partnership to bring a POGO Satellite Clinic to our community. I can’t help but think of future ‘POGO families’ in our area, and how the availability of this clinic will ease their journey.”
POGO now supports highly coordinated care at eight Satellite Clinics across the province, each linked to one of the five major hospitals with a pediatric cancer program. In addition to the benefits for patients and their families, shifting thousands of visits and hundreds of inpatient days to POGO Satellite Clinics each year provides additional capacity for specialized care in these hospitals’ pediatric cancer programs.
Two years in remission and my daughter Selena is doing great. Her hair has all grown back, she’s in school, she plays sports, rides a bike. She is thriving. To everyone else, she is a perfectly normal, happy, healthy seven-year-old. But in my overprotective eyes, she’s my little four-year-old, diagnosed with cancer. At school, I tell her teachers to take special care of her. “She is in remission,” I remind them. “She must hydrate often, make sure she eats her lunch and don’t let her run too fast.” If she has a tummy ache, I go running. And my daughter, knowing that, takes full advantage. Yikes! The problem is ME. I bubble wrap my daughter to make ME feel comfortable.
This summer, Selena threw me for a loop. I signed her up to several special needs camps for children with cancer, as I have for the past few summers. The week before the start of camp #2, she sat me down to tell me that she did not want to attend. She could not explain why, she just knew that this year she did not want to go. I needed a plan B and I needed it quick. Light bulb moment: What camp is her cousin going to and can I get her in? I called at 7:30 pm and the director answered…phew! Then, as luck would have it, she had a few more spaces for the session. “Sign her up please,” I said super excited, but oh so nervous.
I advised the camp director that my daughter is a child in remission, but promised myself not to tell the counsellors she needs extra love and attention and not to call the camp to check in. I let go and allowed my daughter to have a fun time at camp, no special directions required.
This was the first-ever “normal” experience of Selena’s life since her diagnosis. Even after she went into remission, I became terrified of everything and tried the best I could to shield my daughter. Private school with her own teacher, camps that cater to children with special medical needs, whatever I could do to protect her. But now, Selena was standing up to me and saying, “No more mama I got this.”
She had a blast at camp and had no trouble keeping up with the other children. I learn so much every single day from my incredible, brave, strong daughter. What a relief for me to know my child is living her best life.
Moral of the story, Selena is A-OKAY. Mom on the hand needs about 20 years of therapy to get over the fact that she was diagnosed with cancer.
Overprotective parenting is common after a childhood cancer diagnosis, but can it have negative repercussions later in life? Read Amanda Sherman’s POGO-funded research: Is Overprotective Parenting Linked to Anxiety and Depression?
When I was 10 months old, I had persistent raspy breathing that everyone thought was a cold or allergies. Then one night I stopped breathing. I was rushed to the hospital, x-rayed and sent to The Hospital for Sick Children where they found a tumour the size of a grapefruit wrapped around two vertebrae in my upper spine—neuroblastoma was the diagnosis. I was rushed into surgery to remove the tumour and a large portion of muscle and tissue out of my back. My chances of surviving were 5 – 10% and my parents were told that if I DID survive, I would likely be paralyzed.
After cobalt radiation treatment, I went into remission at 18 months old and never relapsed. As I grew up, my doctors explained to me the side effects I was experiencing, those that might still come, my inability to have children, and the fact that my life expectancy was not the same as my peers. For the rest of my life, cancer and I will walk together in some form. That is my basic medical story, but it is not my whole story. While most childhood cancer survivors become well adjusted adults, many have an affected sense of self and some may experience depression, anxiety or other mental health issues.
One rarely discussed issue is something I have been through, and most survivors I know have experienced: survivor guilt. It’s a hard concept to wrap your head around until you understand where it originates.
Growing up, many of the children who were treated alongside me did not survive; including a
friend who was very special to me. For a long time after he passed I felt guilty for living, in fact
I still do sometimes when another life is lost. But the feelings of responsibility don’t end there.
Logical or not, many survivors feel guilty for the sacrifices our parents had to make, for the social
and emotional challenges our siblings went through, and even for being who we are, rather
than super humans doing extraordinary things. There is a burden to be better than “normal.”
As an adult, the feelings have never really gone away, but I have found ways to deal with them.
As a teenager and young adult, the guilt, coupled with the deeper understanding of my own
mortality and no one to relate to, was very isolating. That is why I try to address the topic with
other childhood cancer survivors, especially the younger generation. It has catalyzed many
interesting and emotional conversations, and in some cases, provided a space for people to
voice something they have never said aloud before.
Leanne Brown has been a speaker at the biannual POGO Survivor Conference and POGO AfterCare Education Day. Although she was told she would never have the physical strength and endurance of her peers, she embraces life by skiing, running, hiking, camping and canoeing, and she even completed a half marathon in 2013. Leanne lives with her two children in Ottawa.
I was 9 years old when I was diagnosed with late stage rhabdomyosarcoma. I had been experiencing chronic fatigue, migraines and tingling in my face for over two months, but none of the doctors could find anything wrong. Then one morning I woke up and I was completely blind in my right eye.
The ophthalmologist found no reason for me to lose my sight so he ordered an emergency CT scan. I remember the pediatrician on call coming out of the viewing room and saying to my mom, “You need to get to SickKids Hospital right now; they are waiting for you.”
A tumour had basically encapsulated my brain and was moving; the doctors thought I was 24 – 48 hours away from dying. They started me on emergency chemo and radiation before they could even put a name to what I had. All in all, I had a total of 50 rounds of chemo and 30 rounds of radiation over the course of a year. Radiation caused third-degree burns on my cheek, head, in my mouth and down my esophagus, so eating was a real challenge. I used to drink coffee creamers to keep my weight up and because my mouth was so raw.
My tumour was so aggressive and advanced when I was diagnosed, that doctors wondered whether I would be able to overcome it. They wondered if I would be functional or articulate after such intense treatment, but here I am, 13 years later, a university graduate and am thankfully cancer-free.
Anyone who knows a childhood cancer survivor knows that life doesn’t just return to normal when you are declared cured. The tumour severed my optic nerve and I am completely blind in one eye. The radiation permanently damaged my thyroid and my pituitary gland, and for a long time my tear ducts and salivary glands were not functional. I still live with daily headaches that range from two to nine on the pain scale.
I have annual checkups at my POGO AfterCare Clinic. They are monitoring me for secondary cancers (because of all the radiation) and cardiac issues that may arise due to the type of chemotherapy I had. I get regular MRIs to look for brain tumours and I am thankful that my results have been clear.
As you can imagine, a brain tumour, radiation to the head and a year out of school can put a kid at a disadvantage academically.
I was luckier than other childhood cancer survivors in the same situation in that a neighbour who was a retired teacher offered to be my private tutor to help me catch up—I was actually working at a higher level than my peers at one point. Still, I find school challenging (albeit a welcome one) and use special accommodations, like a note taker to help supplement my own notes in case I experience writing fatigue or a migraine.
Counsellors in POGO’s Successful Academic and Vocational Transition Initiative (SAVTI for short) work one-on-one with survivors like me to help us achieve our academic and employment goals. A HUGE challenge for me has been disclosing my disability when applying for a job. No one wants to hear that a potential employee isn’t going to be able to type quickly, or won’t show up for work some days because of the headaches and chronic pain he has to deal with.
SAVTI is funded entirely by donations from the private sector. DONATE TODAY.
Between some of the workshops I have attended, help from my family and talking one-on-one with my counsellor, I have the tools I need to advocate for myself. It is very intimidating to put yourself out there, but I have gained the confidence I need to say, “I’m a childhood cancer survivor and as a result of my treatments this is what I have to deal with, but I promise you I’m a hard worker and you will be happy with what I can do.”
I can honestly say that if I could go back in time and take away my cancer experience, I don’t think I would. It has shaped my goals and made me who I am. My hope is to one day work with other childhood cancer survivors or kids with serious illnesses to help them grow and be the best they can be.
Through his work with his POGO Counsellor, Noah received a number of post-secondary scholarships and graduated with a (Honours) Bachelor of Humanities from Carleton University. Noah was recently accepted into the Masters of Management program at the Schulich School of Business at York University.