What does the next generation think of today’s issues? The Big Smoke’s Next Gen program publishes students mentored by TBS writers. Today, Eloise (age 10) examines cancer after her schoolmate succumbed to it.
Cancer is like a board game, where fate rolls the dice and death is often the champion. In 2018, it’s estimated that cancer will kill around 48,600 people in Australia (609,640 in the United States). Last year, the count was around 47,700 people in Australia (600,920 in the United States). Even though there are treatments such as chemotherapy, the numbers are going up, not down.
Sadly, one of my fellow schoolmates, Will, is part of those statistics. Will liked Batman and the Parramatta Eels rugby league team, and he was always smiling—even during the worst of times. Just before his ninth birthday, he passed away from neuroblastoma, just one of the many types of this unfair disease.
Normal cells grow and divide, but they know when to stop doing this and die in an orderly way. Abnormal cells also grow and divide, but in a wildly uncontrollable way and they don’t die at the right time. Over time, these abnormal cells form a cluster that we call a tumor. These tumors will take out the normal-functioning cells and ruin the body’s healthy tissues.
Thankfully, society has grown smarter and has invented treatments and medicines to help with cancer, such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. Radiation therapy is a where energy is sent into the body as rays and particles. There are two approaches to this method. The patient can receive radiation targeting the outside of the body, known as external radiation therapy, or the person may have radioactive material placed into the tumor on the inside of the body, which is called internal radiation therapy. Chemotherapy involves taking one or more drugs that intervene in the irregular cells’ business. I think that one day doctors will be able to mix all of these treatments and more to invent a super cure.
Also on The Big Smoke
- TBS Next Gen: The Pacific Garbage Soup We All Have to Taste
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- The Big Smoke Next Gen: We Cannot Lose This Race—Why Climate Change Matters
Most people know at least one person who has been affected by cancer. Both of my grandmothers had this disease. Before I was born, Nanna had lung cancer; later, Abuela was diagnosed with breast cancer. I feel lucky that I have been able to get to know them, as they both survived.
Will’s family was not so lucky. Unfortunately, he was taken too early. He never got the chance to grow up, get married, and have children. But at least he’s not suffering anymore. I will always admire his courage. He was just like his hero, Batman—he remained brave in the face of darkness. I just wish that scientists could find the perfect cure for this horrendous disease. It wouldn’t help Will, but he would be happy to know that other kids could live their lives to the fullest.
As well as neuroblastoma (cancer of the adrenal glands and nervous system tissues), children’s cancers include leukemia (blood cancer), lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes), and osteosarcoma (bone cancer). Some children’s cancers are caused by chance, and maybe coincidence, but most can be caused by other things, such as an unfortunate gene, which is carried through the family; being exposed to certain viruses; and exposure to pesticides and fertilizers. One cause that I think is super big—and a problem in many households throughout the world—is smoking! Passive smoking allows secondhand smoke to get into a child’s lungs and hinders their growth. This is then a breeding ground for lung cancer.
Another weird thing involves children who have already been diagnosed with cancer and are on a high dose of chemotherapy and radiation that is “supposed” to help with the cancer. In a few cases, some children who have been exposed to these agents have developed a second form of cancer later in life. What is the point of having chemotherapy and radiation therapy if they might cause cancer, too? I suppose you have to weigh up the risks and get a second opinion from a specialist.
Cancer is the king of all modern diseases—it reigns over many people’s lives. It causes a lot of heartache. Sometimes people—such as Will—don’t survive the experience, but most of the time they do. Long-established treatments such as chemotherapy help many people, while the search for the ideal cure for all cancers goes on. One day we’ll dethrone this disease, so we’ll rule our own lives again.
This article is part of a series for The Big Smoke Next Gen.
The Big Smoke Next Gen is a program which matches professional and experienced writers, academics, and journalists with students who wish to write nonfiction articles and voice their opinions about what is shaping the world.
For more information about our program at The Big Smoke, or to become a mentor, please contact us.