Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cancer Awareness Month Reviewed

So here we are at the end of September and the end of Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month (and Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and National Sewing Month).  I hope that I’ve helped bring at least a little bit more awareness to this horrible disease that affects not just mine, but thousands of other families across the country.  What have we learned?

  • Every day, 10 children will be diagnosed with a brain tumor while 3 more children will die.
  • Many of the symptoms of brain tumors are common ailments that can be misdiagnosed very easily.
  • Pediatric cancer research funding is woefully underfunded compared to other cancers, especially at large, well known organizations, such as the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute.  If you want your money to go specifically to children’s cancers, you need to pick organizations that are solely dedicated to them (such as St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, or the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation).
  • There are a bunch of new brain tumor treatments on the horizon, but unfortunately, most of them target adults before they target children.
  • If you are diagnosed with cancer, you should collect as much tumor sample as possible and bank it (ask your medical professional or do a search for tumor banking).  This may be used to create a customized vaccine for your cancer.
  • Pork rinds are our best friends!

Pediatric cancer awareness should not be limited to a single month.  Every day, kids like Isabella are fighting for their lives while their families try to cope with their future’s uncertainty.  So the next time you find yourself with some problem, think about these kids and compare your problem with theirs.  That should help put everything in perspective.

        Thanks for reading the blog. 

      Wednesday, September 29, 2010

      CBS Story on Immunotherapy

      In case you missed it, CBS News had a story on immunotherapy, using vaccines to treat cancers.  It’s about a little girl who had a neuroblastoma, which is a cancer of the nervous system.

      Also, check out this story they did last May about tumor vaccines.

      Monday, September 27, 2010

      Tumor Vaccines

      The human body is an amazing machine.  Every day, billions and billions of cells carry out their function which allows us to think, eat, breath, and everything else that we do on a daily basis.  Cells go through a basic process of mitosis, or cell division, which is how certain parts of the body regenerate, such as hair, skin, and blood.  There are several built-in checkpoints during the cell cycle that regulate progress.  These checkpoints have various purposes such as ensuring that cell mutations are not replicated, cells are not replicating at too fast a pace, and that specific organs do not get too big.

      On a daily basis, cells are mutating, but our immune system detects and destroys these mutated cells.  When these mutated cells replicate too fast and the immune system does not detect these cells, the cells begin to grow uncontrollably and that is the basis of cancer.

      Our built-in defense system, the immune system, detects and destroys foreign bodies with amazing efficiency.  These foreign bodies can be viruses or mutated cells.  So along with the ability to “learn”, what else is amazing is that the immune system has “memory” so that if it detects a foreign body again, it can attack it even faster.  When you are given a vaccine (such as the flu vaccine), you are injected with dead versions of  the virus.  Your immune system then programs itself to remember this virus pattern so that if you are exposed to the virus again, it can attack and kill the virus before it spreads and makes you sick.

      A cancer vaccine works in a similar manner.  One difference between a cancer vaccine and traditional vaccine is that a cancer vaccine does not prevent the onset of cancer, but is only used to treat cancer.  But the basic premise is similar.  A portion of the tumor is resected from the patient along with their blood.  The white blood cells are then “taught” to detect the proteins of the tumor cells.  The white blood cells are then reinjected back into the patient where they teach other white blood cells about the cancer cells and go on to fight and kill the cancer cells.

      So, our best piece of advice that we can give you should you or someone you know be diagnosed with cancer is to always try and save a piece of the tumor.  Don’t assume that the hospital saves any of the tumor cells, and even if they do, the hospital legally owns it.  In addition, the tumor needs to be saved in a certain way in order for it to be preserved so it can be used for vaccine creation.  We wish that we had known about this when Isabella had her surgery, because for better or worse, she doesn’t have enough disease tissue right now to make the vaccine.