Terry Hoddinott was a child in the 1960s when he was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, a type of cancer that attacks the retina in children’s eyes. He lost his vision since little was known at the time about the disease, but beat the cancer.
When Hoddinott’s first child Riley was born, he was also diagnosed with Retinoblastoma since the gene can be inherited, but doctors immediately began treatment to try and save his vision. Riley who is now 11, lost on eye but has perfect vision in the other.
Terry and his wife Patti were expecting their second child a few years later, but because of early screening doctors were able to see if their daughter Katie was prone to the disease before birth. The tests came back positive and treatment began as soon as she was born.
Katie is now 11-years-old and has perfect vision in both eyes.
The Hoddinott family expressed the “blessings” of early cancer detection advances, which changed their lives, Wednesday morning at a conference held by the Canadian Cancer Society.
Overall the society found that 82 percent of children who are diagnosed with cancer survive it five years after their diagnosis. The society found an 11 percent increase from the mid 1980s.
Although Heather Logan, the director of the cancer control policy for the Canadian Cancer Society welcomed the news, she and pediatric oncologist Dr. Paul Grundy still say more research is necessary to increase survival rates.
Each year about 135 Canadian children between birth and 14 years of age die from cancer, out of the approximate 850 who are diagnosed.
Research has indicated however, that children undergoing certain kinds of treatment could be affected by later side effects.
“We need to know precisely what kinds of therapy cause late side effects to know how we need to modify current therapy, even where that therapy is effective in curing the cancer,” Grundy said.
The risks for late effects depend on the types of cancers and their treatments according to Grundy, but some side effects of chemotherapy or radiation could include emotional and psychological impacts, such as learning disorders and hormonal changes down the road.
There is also the risk of developing a second cancer that could be more severe than the first. Certain medications could also damage several organs.
Trevor Johnson a 23-year-old cancer survivor has recently started having some heart problems and he believes that it could be a side effect from previous medications.
“I’m on some medication that I’ll probably be on for the rest of my life and I’ve been on several drugs where some of the side effects have been heart problems and I’ve just started experience some heart problems,” Johnson said. “It’s nothing major at this point, but I am on medication to control that and (doctors) are doing further tests to make sure everything’s okay.”
Johnson was initially diagnosed with leukemia at the age of four. At the time his mother Barb was on maternity leave with her third child and was surprised about the development, since there was no cancer history in the family.
After three years of “harsh” chemotherapy, Johnson beat the cancer and was in remission until the age of nine, when he was diagnosed again with leukemia.
“Once again I had to be in treatment for another three years…the protocol for this term was a lot harsher, the drugs were a lot more intense because (doctors) didn’t want it to come back again so I missed a lot of school and had a few complications with the drugs during the process so they had to switch the protocol to accommodate to what my body was going through and after another three years I was in remission again and I’ve been in remission ever since,” Johnson said.
The disease did not only affect Johnson and his family, it was also affecting his school work. Johnson said that he missed about 50 days of school and needed the help of his peers and tutors to keep up with his classmates.
“I wanted to graduate with my class. It was something that I was committed to, it was hard at times but my teacher’s and social network were all very supportive and helped me out with that,” Johnson said.
Last year he graduated from Brock University with a degree in sports management and is currently working with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Riley and Katie Hoddinott have been out of treatment since they were both three years old and are doing well at school according to their father. Terry and Patti Hoddinott are not worried about late effects since their children were not exposed to radiation, but are aware of the risks of a cancer relapse.
“One of the things when you’re dealing with childhood cancer is that your life doesn’t shut down you have to keep living and I think that’s one of the hardest things to do, but you have to continue your regular life,” Hoddinott said.