Many faces of childhood cancer

by Tripp Underwood on October 4, 2012

In honor of National Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month, we spent September sharing the stories of four brave children treated at Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center (DF/CHCC). Each child’s story is different, and all four patients have very unique takes on how being a young cancer survivor has shaped his or her outlook on life.

  • Caitlynne opted for an innovative treatment that turned her ankle into a replacement knee after osteosarcoma took part of her leg. She says have the choice, even though she was very young at the time, has made her a stronger person.
  • Fernando was a star soccer player, but Ewing sarcoma sent him to the sidelines while he received treatment. It was a hard transition, but eventually Fernando says his time away from the field gave him a new appreciation for what really matters in life.
  • Sarah has faced leukemia down not once, but twice, and now knows she has the strength to do whatever she puts her mind to.
  • Steven, overcame bone cancer to become his high school’s valedictorian. He’s currently studying to become a cancer researcher, with the hopes of eventually helping children.

National Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month may be over for now, but that doesn’t mean that promoting awareness around the disease and its treatments is any less important:

  • In the United States, cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death for children under 15.
  • The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 12,060 children under age 15 will be diagnosed with cancer this year.
  • Childhood cancers are often the result of DNA changes in cells that take place very early in life, sometimes even before birth. And unlike many cancers in adults, childhood cancers are not strongly linked to lifestyle or environmental risk factors.

But there is good news. Cure rates have been steadily improving for decades now, and that’s not by accident. Doctors like Lisa Diller, MD, clinical director of Pediatric Oncology at

Lisa Diller, MD

DF/CHCC have made significant advances in treatment, resulting in great outcomes for the majority of childhood cancer patients. For example:

  • The survival rate for the most common pediatric cancer diagnosis, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), is now at more than 90 percent.
  • Because survivorship comes with numerous complex issues, including long-term effects of treatment and social and psychological concerns, two clinics within the Perini Family Survivors’ Center at DF/CHCC are designed to specifically help childhood cancer survivors and pediatric brain tumor survivors. The clinics offer tailored care and services to help survivors of cancer access clinical, support and educational resources.
  • DF/CHCC pediatric oncologists are involved in designing new trials through which could lead to new drugs and improved outcomes for children with cancer. At any time there is an average of 60 unique clinical trials accepting new patients at DF/CHCC, each of which investigates a new way to treat cancer.

Being at the forefront of new research and developing treatments is very exciting, but seeing the smiles on the faces of the children they help is the real payoff for our team. Do you know a young patient who received treatment at DF/CHCC and is now doing well? If so we’d love to share the good news. Please email dfchcc_comm@dfci.harvard.edu with the patient’s name, age and brief description of his or her story and we’ll help find the best way to share it.

(For more pediatric cancer information, see Dr. Diller’s recent interview on Insight, Dana-Farber’s blog.)

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