There are two compelling, unforgettable realities about cancer. The first is that no one is immune to it, and the second is that we must be aware of its symptoms to detect it early.
Little more than a year ago, the Coronell family lived those two situations firsthand. Their 16-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, news that no parent would like to receive.
While cancer treatment has complications and difficult side effects, this young woman surprised many with her attitude toward the disease.
With a beautiful smile, Raquel, who is currently attending the 11th grade at Ransom Everglades, put aside for a moment her activities and commitments to sit and tell us what she faced during her struggle with cancer.
To assimilate what was happening and to face the reactions of some people who still think that the disease is a punishment or as simple as a flu, she had to learn what cancer was all about. “People have to understand that they are not immune, and that they should be alert. Cancer does not discriminate; it does not matter if one is good, religious, or healthy; it can happen to any person at any time.” She even told us that at the time of her diagnosis, she enjoyed excellent health because she had always been active swimming and playing tennis.
The Colombian teen, who has been living in this country for just five years and loves Venezuelan arepas, surprised not only her family but also the hospital staff with her positive attitude under the circumstances. Her stance was a life lesson to her parents, who had been devastated by the news.
“She was the one who encouraged us, repeated to us that we were going to move forward and that everything was going to be fine.” The nurses saw her smiling always despite the treatment and its side effects,” explained Raquel’s mother, Maria Cristina Coronell.
The second reality that this family faced was that the illness was diagnosed in time. At the time of detection, the oncologist said that probably she had had the illness for no more than ten days. Today, studies show that there is a good prognosis when the cancer is diagnosed in its initial stage.
One morning Raquel, whose favorite pastime is playing guitar, felt that her lymph nodes in her neck and armpits were swollen. She also had a spot in the skin near her nose, which she attributed to the exposure to the sun during rigorous tennis training. Later she learned that was one of the symptoms of cancer.
There was no fever or headache; therefore, her mother did not take her to the pediatrician immediately. Her mother said, “I remember that day I called my father in Colombia. He is a medical doctor and when I told him what was happening to Raquel, he did not like the symptoms, He insisted that we should not wait, not even a minute to take her to the doctor.” If it had not been for his insistence, I would have probably waited to see if she had any other symptoms.”
It is common for parents to be unaware and confused about the symptoms of cancer and mistake them, in the majority of cases, for other childhood ailments.
According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer remains the leading cause of death among children, although childhood cancer mortality rates have dropped almost 70 percent over the past four decades.
Today Raquel, whose main gifts are compassion and concern for others, has resumed her studies after spending an intense year exclusively dedicated to the treatment. She told us “for me school is important, but my priority is to make sure I stay healthy and my treatment goes well.”
During this 2016-2017 school year, she is going to alternate her treatment with her studies, and she is also going to prepare to take university exams because her dream is to become a doctor like her grandfather.
Be aware of the symptoms that your children may be experiencing. Do not wait too long. Some symptoms can maybe be mistaken for other diseases.
• Feeling cold
• Dizziness or lightheadedness
• Difficulty to breathe
• Pale skin
• Tendency to bruise easily
• Frequent or severe nasal bleeding
• Bleeding gums
• Bone or joint pain
• Swelling of the abdomen
• Loss of appetite or weight
• Swollen lymph nodes (in the neck, armpits, over the collarbone or in the groin area)
• Swelling in the face and arms
• Headaches, convulsions and vomiting. Source: American Cancer Society