Cancer treatments stress youngest patients

September is the month to prevent cancer in children. About 10,000 children in the US will be diagnosed with cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. The life-saving treatments they receive can be incredibly challenging.

Bridget, four, has spent much of the past 15 months at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center in Boston, Massachusetts, where she was treated for a rare childhood cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. Bridget’s mother Janelle says, “This has been going on for a third of her life. But I mean, she pretty much does it all with a smile. She’s just really brave.”

Bridget started chemo right after diagnosis, which narrowed the tumor so doctors could remove it. She also needed six weeks of radiation, five days a week, which often requires sedation for children. “The most important thing is for that child to lie still, because any movement will send the radiation in the wrong place,” said Sydney Sanford, a pediatric life therapy specialist for radiation oncology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Sedation means sedation several times a week, with the fast beginning the night before. It also means more time in the hospital.

Sydney helped Bridget avoid all of that. Armed with toys, she is a friendly face to young patients, making it all less scary.

No one should be in the room with the patient during the irradiation. Sydney wanted to see if Bridget could avoid being sedated. She gave her noise-canceling film glasses. “She picked Barbie to watch. I always say, ‘stand like a statue’, and so they will lie down like a statue. And she did a great job,” says Sydney.

Bridget’s mother says, “Sydney was just a rock star, kind of a calming thing. She loved playing different games with her.”

The hospital says Bridget is one of their youngest patients to receive her radiation without anesthesia. “They call her Bridget the Brave, and she’s absolutely brave,” says Sydney.

Bridget is doing well. She is in remission and will complete chemotherapy next month.

The American Cancer Society says that childhood cancer rates have risen slightly in recent decades.

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