No Child Should Have To Suffer Like This

I absolutely love my job, but not all days as a pediatric hematologist-oncologist in Africa are sunshine and roses. One recent day was especially tough with the following patients, among the many I saw that day:

  • A 2-year-old who presented 2 months earlier with a metastatic cancer of the adrenal gland, liver, skull and bone marrow, most likely neuroblastoma. Unfortunately, she was too far progressed to hope for a cure. Our goal was to make the final days of her tragically short life as comfortable as possible. Sadly, her cancer progressed rapidly, especially her skull tumors. On this day, she can barely lift her very enlarged head (about the size of a basketball) with her small frame. She has proptosis (eyes bulging) from the pressure of the tumors that resulted in very recent blindness. She clings to her mother’s shirt and cries when she cannot feel her. She moans in pain. We give pain medicine and a blood transfusion to try to abate her symptoms. As I rub her back and fan away the flies, my heart is torn in pieces knowing I am doing all that I can, which is not enough, then move on to the next child…
  • Next was an almost 2-year-old that had recently been diagnosed with a Wilms’ tumor, a common kidney tumor in young children. This child also presented very late, and the tumor is so large that she cannot even sit up. Our hope is to shrink the tumor with chemotherapy so it can be removed, but we are out of stock of 2 of the 3 chemotherapy drugs she needs. We improvise, as we often do, but the tumor is so large it is causing heart failure. She lay on her bed so thin and frail, wearing an oxygen mask and working hard to breathe. Her worried mother, pregnant with twins due in 3 weeks, sits at her side. I do all that I can, hoping it works, and move on…
  • A teenage girl with osteosarcoma of the leg had presented a couple months ago. We had given her 2 months of chemotherapy before it was time to remove the tumor. She had presented quite late as well. The tumor was so large that the only way to remove it was to amputate her leg above the knee. To a teenage girl, the thought of losing a leg with the self-image issues that would ensue is devastating. Her leg was amputated just a few hours ago. Tears of pain, both physical and emotional, are flowing. She quickly wipes her tears away as I approach her bed. She tells me she is doing well. She even manages a smile to my weak attempts at humor. I tell her it is OK to cry, and it will get better, which I hope is true, then on to the next child I go…

Every day is a challenge when treating childhood cancer in a resource-limited setting, but this day was especially tough. Seeing the suffering of these children places my frustrations into proper perspective. Daily I am inspired by their grit and resilience.
Drawings by pediatric cancer patientsThese portraits of our child life doll by our pediatric cancer patients gave me a smile on this rough day. The doll was donated by the Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers to help teach the children about their cancer and procedures.

About Dr. Jeremy Slone, Pediatric Oncologist

I am a member of the International Program at the Texas Children’s Cancer Center.

I'm primarly based at the Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone, Botswana, where I provide clinical care to hematology and oncology patients and continue to research the disparities in outcomes seen in children residing in developing countries.

Posted in Cancer and Hematology, International

13 Responses to No Child Should Have To Suffer Like This

  1. Ronald Truong says:

    I’m probably just a nobody replying but I’m glad you shared this. It keeps me focused on what I want to do with my life (I’m a pre-med). Did an internship at TCH and have been pushing myself to end up back there for the very reason everybody else is ther, “It’s for the kids.” Keep up all you are doing and bear in mind that this is very inspiring to all of us that will hopefully be in your shoes one day. Best of luck to the children!

    • Ronald, I am encouraged to see your compassion for people. That will be a tremendous asset to you and your patients as you continue your career in medicine. I cannot imagine a greater responsibility than that of a physician where patients literally put their lives in our hands. Keep working hard!

  2. Hayley Smith says:

    So heartbreaking. Thank you for the work that you do for those babies.

  3. Sue Emerson says:

    Keep up the great work. You are doing the best you can with what you have & that is all you can do. They are fortunate to have a caring Dr. to treat them. May God bless you all.

  4. Sue Emerson says:

    God bless you for the work you do. It must be very frustrating to not have the meds you need .Keep up the great work, the kids need your compassion as well as your skill. We will be praying for you from Maine.

  5. OCD Adam says:

    Thanks so much for what you do for those children. We need more people like you. such a touching story, thanks for sharing

  6. Hayley, Sue, and Adam – thank you for your kind and encouraging words. In these blog posts, I try to convey a snapshot of a world that most will never see with their own eyes. There is so much suffering in the world and what I see on a daily basis is just a small part of it. I want to be an advocate for the children with cancer in parts of the world where accurate diagnosis and proper treatment is not often available.

  7. Tiffany Owens, M.D. says:

    Jeremy – I’m so proud and touched to here of the work you are doing in Africa. What a long way from the beginning of medical school in Dayton, Ohio! I’m so glad that you have a found a vocation that allows you to use your gifts in amazing ways. God bless you and keep you and you care for these incredible patients!

  8. Sue Fetters says:

    Jeremy, I am so proud of the work you are doing. You have become an amazing young man. I have many fond memories of you in Bible Club. May God bless and keep you and your family in His care.

  9. carol Slone says:

    Son so thankful for your work you are doing for those children with a heart of love and compassion.. I was thinking how long your Dad and I had to wait for God to allow you in our lives. I remember saying *God this baby you are giving us after wanting you for so many years is yours* We ask God to use you for his Glory! * Easy said at that time. The years flew by as you grew up so quickly. You begin saying to us you wanted to be a Doctor at age 3yrs. old. Son you have accomplished that and more!! Even When you told me after your Daddy had passed away only 7mos. before you and your family were feeling the call to go to Africa. I have to say I thought I would die. Now,as I see the work you are doing God reminded me of the time we told the Lord to use you for him.. He is doing just that. So proud of you and your wife Amanda and baby girl.l am so proud to be your mother and daddy is so proud to be your daddy even tho he is with our LORD ! Soon to be 2yrs.. You have had to encounter so much hurt and pain to get where you are honey ,God has never failed you!!!I Love you so much and really enjoyed your posting this . With many prayers for you and your little family. Also for more meds. etc. to reach where you are.. God Bless You Son!!!

  10. Pingback: Making Chemo! | Be The Change

  11. many years ago, at the highland bend Nazarene church, I remember on a Wednesday night a small little boy stood behind the pulpit and talked to the congregation of Gods love. I was one of the people who had the privilege to sit and listen. . now, look at that same boy, now a man, still talking of that same God. Jeremy, So So proud of you. it takes a special person to be where you are at, and the work you are doing. God knew its you.!!!!!

  12. Barobi (sebaga"s mum) says:

    Dr Slone, your coming to Botswana was really a blessing to us.As one of the people who have have been through this difficult time, i have learnt so much about Cancer.You were always and still there for my family.Losing your loved one especilly a child is not an easy thing to cope with. my family is realy thankfull for your support.May God bless you.Continue to be a father to our sick little children.With the challenges of less resourses, you are really fighting hard to save their lives.CANCER HAS NO MERCY.I guess as parents we need emotional support as well as councelling throughout our difficult time. I am saying this because you have always provided this to my family until the last day.Sebaga is at peace, free from pain.Thank you for everything & be blessed. Your family should be proud of the good work you do.

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