I’ve always wanted to do paediatrics. Well, at least from the moment I first saw the tiny babies at my grandmother’s maternity clinic and decided that I wanted to be a doctor.
I had come back to KorleBu- this was home despite all of its frustrations. I’d been a medical student here, then a house officer. Where else was I going to go to continue my training to becoming a specialist?
I remember my first day as a medical officer. And I only remember it so vividly because of Mary…Mary was a 14 year old girl who had just been diagnosed with osteosarcoma (cancer of the bone) involving her left knee. She understood that if she didn’t have chemotherapy and then surgery to treat her cancer, it could spread and she could die. Mary didn’t want to die. She was a sweet, soft-spoken girl and she was so smart and compassionate.
Mary wanted to become a lawyer. She and her mum were best friends. You could see the bond between them each time you were in the side ward with them. But Mary didn’t want to have the surgery to treat her cancer. You see surgery in this case meant an amputation.
Even 70 year olds with diabetes who have lived their lives to the fullest run away from getting their legs amputated, how much more a 14 year old with her whole life ahead of her. We had to have several counselling sessions with Mary and her mum before she finally agreed that this was the best decision for her. We finally started chemotherapy and oh Lord, the side effects-Mary was vomiting, she couldn’t eat anything and her hair started falling out.
We kept on having to prick her to set new IV lines and the look on her face any time she had to come on admission was just heartbreaking.
After 3 cycles of chemotherapy, Mary had a below knee amputation and we continued with chemotherapy. After the 1st cycle post surgery, Mary started coughing. We did a chest CT scan which showed that the cancer had spread to her lungs. I was devastated.
Mary didn’t survive. She didn’t become a lawyer like she’d wanted. Her mother and older brothers were bereft…their only daughter and sister had left them.
Most of the medication for treatment of childhood cancer is not available on the National Health Insurance Scheme. Mary’s mother had paid for most of her treatment out of pocket and had travelled from their home in Tema with her each time they needed to be admitted for chemotherapy.
We need to do more.
We need to create awareness about childhood cancer.
The powers that be need to be pushed to act.
No child should die from childhood cancer.
Ghanaian children should not be disadvantaged because there are only 5 Paediatric oncologists and 2 hospitals that can cater to their special health needs and treatment.
Our children should not be disadvantaged because their parents are worried about bringing them to the hospital because they have no money to pay for their transportation, medication, lab investigations and daily meals.
Written by Dr. Hannah-Sharon Mills
Resident, Department of Child Health,
Korle Bu Teaching Hospital.