MD Anderson Cancer Center
Date: Aprill 2011
Hi. My name is Isabella. If you're watching this video now, it's probably because your mom or dad has cancer. You're not alone. Lots of kids have parents who have cancer. You might be wondering to yourself just what is cancer and how is it going to affect my parent and me? I'm going to try to explain it in a very simple way. First, cancer is a disease that starts in a person's cells. So, what are cells?
The cells are tiny little microscopic little things in our body that make up every single part of our body. They make up our hair, our skin, our organs that are inside of our body, our fingernails, our eyeballs. Cells make up every part of our body.
Most cells are good cells. They tell the parts of our body what to do. For example, heart cells tell our hearts to beat. Lung cells help us breath, and brain cells help us think. The cells are always growing and dividing to create new cells.
Cancer really is a problem that happens when some cell in the body forgets how to behave. All of our cells grow over time, they make copies of themselves, and then when they're done doing their job they're supposed to go away.
Sometimes the cells get sent a wrong message and they suddenly start dividing and growing out of control, and they grow out of control and they can't be stopped until they have formed cancer.
No one knows exactly why this happens. The good news is that most people don't get cancer. And if they do, they can get help. The doctor can give them treatments to help them get better.
Another question you might have is, what will the doctors do to make my mom or dad better? There are several different ways to make cancer go away or get smaller and we call these ways, treatments. There are 3 types of treatments for cancer. They are called chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Your mom or dad may be getting one or all of these kinds of treatments.
Everyone's cancer can be a little bit different from someone else's. So when your mom or dad meets with their doctor, the doctor decides depending on what type of cancer they have and where it is in their body, which treatment to give them. Not everybody gets chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Some people do get all 3. Some people may only get 1, some may get 2, some may get none if they don't need any.
Let's talk about chemotherapy. Some people call it chemo for short. Chemo is a special medicine that is put into the body to attack cancer cells.
Chemotherapy can be given in 2 ways. It can be given as a liquid medicine that goes into your veins through a needle. So sometimes when someone is in the hospital, you'll see they have a bag that's hanging by their bed with a tube that is connected to a needle that goes inside their body. Sometimes that needle goes in their arm, sometimes it goes in their chest, it can go different places. Chemotherapy can also be taken as a pill just like a regular vitamin that anybody would take.
Cancer cells are fast growing cells. Once chemotherapy is in the body it looks for and attacks all fast growing cells.
Cancer is kind of like crazy cells in our body. They're very fast growing cells. They're bad fast growing cells.
The problem is that not all of the fast growing cells in our body are bad cancer cells. Some of our good cells are fast growing too. Like the cells in our hair, nails, lining of our mouth, and belly.
Let's say chemotherapy is like a monster and in order to get to the bad cancer cells and attack those cells and get rid of them along the way it's gonna run into some good fast growing cells.
The problem with chemotherapy is it's not a smart medicine. It doesn't look at the cell and say are you a good cell or a bad cell. It just says you're moving quickly we're gonna knock you over.
Some other good fast growing cells that are affected by chemotherapy are found in your blood like red blood cells which carry oxygen from the air that you breath to every cell in your body, white blood cells which eat bad germs that can make you sick, and platelets which clump together to form a scab when you bleed.
So those are important parts of the body that may also be made sick by these medicines that we use, but if we don't use the medicines we can't stop the cancer.
When chemo destroys some of those good cells, your parent might experience some side effects. Side effects are things that happen to your mom or dad during treatment that may make them feel or look different.
The things that are first noticeable for somebody getting chemotherapy and other treatments for cancer usually is when their hair falls out. It starts about 3 weeks or so after they start their chemotherapy treatments and at first it's just a little bit and then it's a little bit more and then all of a sudden their hair is pretty much going out in big handfuls and clumps and they wind up with no hair. And if that's your mom and you've always known her with hair, it's kinda shocking the first time you see your mom bald.
My mom has breast cancer. My mom has gotten chemotherapy. She has gotten radiation. The first question I asked was, why is your hair falling out? 'Cause I had noticed that there was hair at the bottom of the shower. It was just a little strange seeing her bald. Maybe uncomfortable a little bit.
The other things that you might notice is people feel tired. Sometimes the chemotherapy makes them sick to their stomachs. They might throw up. We have some medicines that help a lot with that, but they're not perfect. And that can be really upsetting to see.
He would sometimes lie down and then he'll feel better and then get up and then he'll go back and sit down.
The other thing that happens is all of their blood is a little thinned out. So, they might need somebody else's blood given to them.
A few other things you might notice are that your parent's fingernails might fall out or sometimes they can get sores in their mouth. The good news is that most of these side effects are temporary, so once your parent stops getting chemotherapy these changes should go away. Also, it is important to remember that even though your mom or dad may look different or act different, they're still the same person on the inside.
The whole goal for taking care of somebody with cancer is to get all the cancer cells out of their body. You don't want any living cancer cells left behind in their body and if they have a solid tumor, you know, a big lump somewhere or maybe a bunch of lumps, one of the best ways to do that is to do a surgery. What that means is a doctor who specializes in cutting things will bring the cancer patient into an operating room.
After the doctor puts your mom or dad to sleep, he or she makes a cut and goes into the body to take the cancer out and also to see if there's any more cancer left there. With some kinds of surgery people are in the hospital for weeks, and with other kinds they go home on the same day. It just depends on what kind of cancer they have and where it is in the body.
Now, let's talk about another kind of treatment called radiation therapy. Radiation is a special kind of energy beam that comes out of a gigantic machine that is aimed right at the cancer in order to shrink it or get rid of it completely.
Radiation is really kind of like light with a different amount of energy in it. A lot of energy like, think your microwave turned on high for a long time. That amount of energy. And the idea is you point the radiation where the tumor is and it sort of fries it. You know, and if you fry it enough then it's dead.
Some people wonder if it hurts because the machines are so big. Sometimes it looks like the radiation hurts. Generally, the radiation doesn't hurt, if it does it might feel just like a little bit of a sunburn, but overall it doesn't, it doesn't hurt like it looks like it would.
One of the real problems that sometimes happen when you're a kid is that when somebody you know has cancer you've a lot of stuff you're thinking about in your head and you don't quite know when it's okay to talk about it or who you can talk to about it.
If you start worrying about things but not talking to anybody, I know what you're gonna do, you'll make stuff up. You'll make up what you think the answer is and you're very creative and you're very smart and you're gonna do a good job of it except almost all the time what you make up is gonna be worse than the truth. So, I'd really encourage you when you have stuff in your head that you're worried about find someone you can talk to, to get real answers and real information because that will be less scary than what's in your head.
You might already know of some questions you'd like to ask about cancer. Let's see if they're like the questions some other kids have asked.
Can I catch cancer?
There is no way you can catch cancer. You can kiss your mom on the mouth if she has cancer. You can take a drink after your mom or dad if they have cancer. You can hug them and squeeze them if they have cancer. There's no way you can catch it.
I already knew what cancer was so I already knew the fact that you could not catch cancer from anybody. It was just something that came.
Cancer comes because some cell in the body started growing more than it was supposed to and not doing what it was supposed to. And you're not going to catch that the way you catch a cold or the flu or strep throat. It doesn't work that way.
Did I cause this cancer?
Since cancer can appear anywhere in the body like the lung, brain, breast, skin, and lots of other places, you might be wondering why your mom or dad has cancer. If you don't know, I bet they'd be glad to tell you if you ask them. You also might be wondering, how did my mom or dad get cancer in the first place?
One of the other things that some kids will worry about is, did they do something to cause this? Is this their fault somehow? Kids get blamed for a lot of things, but let me tell you, there's no way you can actually cause cancer, okay. No kid caused their parents cancer. There's nothing you did to make this happen. Nothing's your fault. Cancer is just something bad that happened.
We don't know what causes cancer. Doctors and scientists work every day to try and figure out what causes it.
Even though we don't know exactly what causes cancer to start in the cells, it's important that we do things to take care of ourselves. Like eating healthy foods, wearing sunscreen when we go outside, and staying away from these yucky cigarettes.
Is it okay for me to have fun?
If your mom or dad has cancer you might feel bad or guilty if you wanna go outside and play and still have fun, and you might be wondering is it okay for me to still have fun? And it is definitely okay for you to still have fun. You are a kid and your mom or dad wants you still be a kid. And they still want you to be happy. So even though your mom or dad may not feel like playing with you on a certain day because they don't feel well, it's definitely okay for you to still laugh and have fun and play games.
Are there still things I can do with my mom and dad if they have cancer?
If your mom or dad is getting chemotherapy, there are some things that you can still do with them even if they're feeling very tired and sleepy, even if they don't feel like doing the things that they would normally do with you. You can read a book with them. You can take a nap with them. You can color or watch movies with them. You can read a book to them. There are lots of things that you can still do with your mom or dad even though they may feel different and not feel well.
Since my mom or dad has cancer, does that mean they're gonna die from it?
A lot of times some kids may have a very scary question in their head when they hear their mom or dad has cancer and that question is, can they die from cancer? Some people do die from cancer. Some kids may know of a grandma or grandpa or a dog or another relative who died from cancer. Just because someone else you know may have died from cancer doesn't mean that that's gonna happen to your mom or dad.
Most people will be cured from their cancer and are going on to be long-term survivors. They're gonna go up to be the ages of grandmas and great grandmas. There are some people that can't be that. We don't yet know how to cure everybody. There are people working on finding out those reasons and who knows maybe someday you're gonna grow up to be one of those people that helps figure out those reasons, but most people will be cured of their cancer.
What can I do to help myself with all the feelings I have inside?
Sometimes when you're a kid and your mom or dad has cancer, it can be very overwhelming and you can feel lots of different feelings at one time.
In my family, my dad has cancer and he is in coma. I felt very sad, I was crying and I was scared that if, that he was gonna die.
Some kids may wonder is it okay for me to cry if I'm sad because my mom or dad has cancer? And it's definitely okay for you to cry. Crying is a very, very good way for you to let out your feelings and get them out of your body so that they don't turn into a headache or stomach ache or make you even more sad. If you're scared to ask your mom or dad a question of something that you're wondering about cancer, there're other people that you can ask. You can ask your teachers at school or your counselors at school. Maybe you have a grandparent or another aunt or uncle or relative that you feel comfortable talking to and I bet that your mom or dad would love if you would ask them your questions because they wanna be able to give you the right answers.
So now you can see that you're not alone if you have a mom or dad who has cancer. Talk to your mom or dad if you have any questions about their cancer. Or talk to another adult you trust. Remember, if you get real answers to the questions you have it'll be a lot less scary than you've imagined. You'll be a lot happier and able to spend better time with the parent that you love.
© 2011 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
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