Cancer treatments stress youngest patients


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

Four-year-old Bridget has spent much of the last 15 months at the Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving treatment for a rare childhood cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. Bridget’s mom 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, reducing the tumor so doctors could remove it. She also needed six weeks of radiation five days a week, which for children often requires sedation. “The most important part is that that child is staying still because If any sort of movement, the radiation will go in the wrong spot,” says Sydney Sanford, a child life specialist for Radiation Oncology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Sedation means anesthesia multiple times a week, with fasting starting the night before. It also means more time at the hospital.

Sydney helped Bridget avoid all that. Armed with toys, she’s a friendly face for young patients, making it all less scary.

Nobody can be in the room with the patient during radiation. Sydney wanted to see if Bridget would be able to avoid being sedated. She gave her a pair of noise-canceling movie goggles. “She picked out Barbie to watch. I always say, ‘stand like a statue,’ and so they’ll lay down like a statue. And she did great,” says Sydney.

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

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

Bridget is doing great. She’s in remission and finishes chemotherapy next month.

The American Cancer Society says childhood cancer rates have been rising slightly for the past few decades.

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