Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fighting for a Cure - thoughts from a pediatric cancer doc

I met Jessica Ueltschi in November 2009. She was a pale toddler, scared and tearful. I told her that she was in the hospital because I was trying to figure out how to make her feel better. She cried and said she wanted to go home. Her blood tests came back, and a diagnosis of pre-B acute lymphocytic leukemia was confirmed. I told her parents that she had leukemia. Her mother, Heather, became pale, put her hand over her heart, and then said, "Excuse me." She ran into the little bathroom, and I could hear her retching into the toilet. Her father stood by stoically - turned into stone. Jessica then spent the next five weeks in the hospital.

Jessica is in remission now. She is continuing her maintenance phase of chemotherapy, which involves oral chemotherapy every day, monthly intravenous chemotherapy, and spinal taps every few months.

I hope she will be cured. Our definition of a cure is that you haven't relapsed within 5 years after treatment. One out of every two children with acute myeloid leukemia are expected to relapse. Two out of 10 children with acute lymphocytic leukemia are expected to relapse.

Imagine enduring harsh chemotherapy for eight months, then more chemotherapy for two to three years. Then after that, you are watching and waiting every day for the next five years - hoping and believing you are still in remission because you must, but fearing that will be the day the cancer comes back. Imagine you are the parent of that child.

Parents ask what will happen if their child relapses, and I always tell them that we will never give up. There is always a treatment, always hope. Sometimes that treatment means a bone marrow transplant. Sometimes their child has already had a bone marrow transplant. The grim reality is that their child has suffered and will suffer immeasurably and unfairly.

And yet, these children are amazing. To look at Jessica today, you would never know she has battled leukemia. Her blond curls frame her chubby cheeks, and she bounces with joy wherever she goes. She gives us artwork and hugs, and holds our hand when she wants to go play. That is exactly how a child who has battled leukemia should be - filled with joy. Because no matter what the disease or the treatment, we should never take away a child's capacity for joy. And we are in turn are blessed with the knowledge that every day is a gift.

I am raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society because what I do as a pediatric oncologist is simply not enough. It is not enough for the one in two or the two in 10 children who relapse. It is not enough for the children we have lost. I can only care for my patients one at a time. But by funding millions and millions in research dollars, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society can support research in every academic center across the nation. Research is the only way other pediatric oncologists and I will ever be able to tell every parent, "Your child will be cured."

While research funds dwindle, cancer continues to spread. Cancer is not in a recession, nor does it care that we are. Cancer can strike anyone at anytime - it is indiscriminate and no man, woman, or child is completely immune. If are we to beat cancer, we must be more relentless than the disease itself.

Jessica is now the Girl of the Year and Eli Roe (another patient hero) is the Boy of the Year for the Western NC chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I am raising funds in their honor. Please consider a donation to

Share your day's gift of life by sharing my cause today.

Thank you,

Jessica Bell, MD

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spring - a fresh start!

As the warm weather approaches, we see flowers blooming, birds nesting, and neighbors planting. Spring gives us an opportunity to get a fresh start on whatever we put on the backburner. Starting an exercise regimen or eating healthier can be a great jumpstart to spring, but also consider joining a support group, starting a new craft or working on some unresolved issues.

At Buddy Kemp we have some new groups and events springing up! The brain tumor support group meets on the fourth Thursday. The group focuses on coping skills related to their diagnosis. Caregivers that bring their loved one to the group can attend our weekly caregiver’s connections support group that meets at the same time. The newly formed colorectal support group will meet on the first Monday to discuss how they deal with issues related to their diagnosis. We also have craft time every Tuesday for those who want to work on their craft or learn a new craft. Check out our online classes, programs and events calendar to learn about the latest activities you can enjoy.

If you prefer one-on-one, consider scheduling an appointment with one of our counselors to assess and jump start your goals this spring.

Whatever your goal may be, think of spring as an opportunity to clean, purge and rejuvenate. How do you plan to jumpstart your spring?

~ Debbie, Buddy Kemp Cancer Support Center

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Go on, laugh a little!

“Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.” – Bob Newhart

Laughter is often called the best medicine, and what a great medicine it is for cancer patients! Finding humor during treatment at a time when nothing seems funny can be an excellent coping skill, as well as a great way to decompress. Laughter is known to relieve stress by relaxing the body and mind through the release of negative emotions and also serves as a distraction from pain or discomfort. It be a great diversion when things begin to get a little too heavy. When used at the right moment, laughter can quickly change the mood or tone of a situation and present a change in direction.

There are many ways to use laughter during treatment, including:
  • Watching a funny movie or television show while recovering from your last treatment
  • Looking for the humor in everything
  • Learning to laugh at yourself
  • Giving yourself permission to be silly
  • Making it a point to laugh every day
And most of all, laughter is infectious, so share it with others!

Another way to generate smiles is by giving back. If you're interested in enjoying an entertaining evening while raising money for Komen, please join us for Laugh for the Cure on March 10!

What are things that always seem to make you laugh? Do you do any funny things that always cause others to smile?

Take care, and laugh a little!
~ Lorraine, Buddy Kemp Cancer Support Center