At four, I was diagnosed with stage 4 rhabdomyosarcoma, in my case a tumour the size of a baseball in the lower abdominal area near my bladder. At 20, I have lived almost my entire lifetime in cancer care. And alongside my parents, POGO, through its many programs and services, has been with me every step of the way. POGO teams have supported me through treatment, which included eight rounds of chemotherapy and a series of surgeries at the age of four. And now, 16 years later, as I manage the late effects that have developed as a result of my treatment, POGO AfterCare Clinics continue to support me.
Most people know that cancer treatment can be fairly aggressive, but what many don’t realize is that it can have serious side effects many years later. I continue to be monitored by oncology for second cancers. I need to see a cardiologist every six months because the toxic mix of drugs I was given has the potential to seriously lower my Ejection Fraction Index, which is the fraction of blood pumped out with every heartbeat. And I visit my internist annually because the surgeries that removed my tumour, also left a lot of scar tissue.
Until a few years ago, all of my follow-up care took place at SickKids where I was diagnosed and treated. When I turned 18, I graduated from the all-encompassing children’s hospital system, with its seamless management and coordination between departments, to the adult system (in most situations I am by far the youngest person in the waiting room!). While I have three new doctors spread across the city, luckily for me, and every childhood cancer survivor in Ontario, all of my follow-up care is still coordinated through a POGO AfterCare Clinic. So when my cardiologist wanted to change my medication, POGO teams were able to determine that it wouldn’t do any damage based on the treatment I had as a child. And when my internist wanted to do an exploratory procedure, POGO teams again intervened noting it could do more damage than good with the scar tissue that was built up over many surgeries.
As you can see from my personal story, childhood cancer requires a lifetime of follow-up care. I know POGO will be there for me over the next 20 years, 20 more after that and counting. Without the seamless care of POGO’s AfterCare Clinics, and survivor care programs, many young cancer survivors would fall through the cracks.