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Why Diseases Like COVID-19 Are Scary for the Childhood Cancer Community

Over the past several weeks, millions of Americans have had their lives turned upside down. Schools and offices are closed. Weddings and vacations are cancelled. We don’t get together with friends. We avoid leaving the house unless it’s necessary. And we don’t know when, or if, life will ever return to normal.quinn_in_hospital_ copy

In some ways, we’re getting a taste of what daily life is like for so many children with cancer.

Children with cancer fall into the category of “immunocompromised” — a word that’s been thrown around a lot since the novel coronavirus came to the public’s attention. Being immunocompromised means that your immune system doesn’t work as well as it should. Sometimes it’s because the cancer itself weakens the immune system. Other times it’s because the treatments — chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation — wipe out the immune system, leaving you vulnerable to even the most commonplace germs.

Having a compromised immune system means you’re at greater risk of falling ill from viruses and bacteria in your environment. It also means that you’re at greater risk of developing serious complications from those illnesses. So something as simple as the common cold could mean a lengthy stay in the hospital for a child with cancer. It could mean bacterial pneumonia or meningitis. It could mean emergency surgeries and IV infusions. And, even with the best doctors and nurses at their bedside, it could still mean death.

Parents of children with cancer know this, so their families live life differently. They wash their hands dozens of times a day. They carry antibacterial gel and disinfectant wipes everywhere. For the child with cancer, birthday parties, sports or other events where they’d come into close contact with their peers are a no-go — they may go weeks, even months, without leaving the house or their hospital room. Something as basic as going to school once they’re well enough can be terrifying for their parents when even the slightest cough could land the child back in intensive care.

Many parents today can take comfort in knowing that most COVID-19 cases in children appear to be mild. But for parents of children with cancer, there is no solace because COVID-19, like the flu or the common cold, could easily be what takes their child’s life.

This is why social distancing is so important. Children with cancer need you to help keep them safe. So many of the changes we’ve had to come to terms with recently are already second nature for these kids, but that doesn’t make them any less difficult. They’re already missing out on school, playdates and so much of what defines childhood, and their restrictions won’t end when the government lifts them for the rest of us.

So please, do your part and stay home. We owe it to children with cancer, and to all the most vulnerable members of our community, to do what we can to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Their lives are depending on it.

We know these are difficult times for everyone, and so many are struggling financially. If you are able, please consider making a donation to the American Childhood Cancer Organization. We remain committed to our advocacy work and offering resources to children with cancer and their families, and we need your support now more than ever.


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