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You're Cured of Cancer, But What About Heart Disease, Stroke and Christmas?

Why childhood cancer survivors should never skip a beat on tracking their heart health.
PUBLISHED March 10, 2018
Ryan Hamner is a four-time survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma, a musician and a writer. In 2011, he wrote and recorded, "Where Hope Lives" for the American Cancer Society and the song for survivors, "Survivors Survive" used in 2015 for #WorldCancerDay. Recently, he published his book, This is Remission: A Four-Time Cancer Survivor's Memories of Treatment, Struggle, and Life, available on Amazon.
You know what's really awesome about childhood cancer? Well, absolutely nothing. Are you kidding? However, curesearch.org reports that in the past 40 years, the survival rate for children with cancer has gone from 10 percent to 90 percent. And well, that is awesome about children's cancer.

Without a doubt, treatments for cancer are improving. With new drugs and things like gene therapy, the future for all cancer patients looks better in terms of survival. However, what has the reality become for childhood cancer survivors who are now adults? What is it like for those who have lived through multiple relapses? Well, unfortunately, it's not always good.

For one, as a recent study showed, many childhood cancer survivors are more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions. Specifically, they are more likely to face heart disease and stroke.

Personally, I know about the effects of cancer treatment on the heart, all too well. Unfortunately though, I didn't find out until Christmas Day in 2006 that I actually had a problem. In short, I basically learned that cancer treatment had impacted my heart when I winded up horizontal and unconscious in front of the Christmas tree on Christmas Day, 2006. Heart disease from cancer treatment wasn't even on my radar. The condition led to hospitalizations, surgeries, multiple ER trips and new medications. Oh, and a really bad Christmas. Actually, two bad Christmas' as I was in the hospital for Christmas Day, 2012 as well - with the same friggin' thing.

I'm not alone, though. Recently, Eric Chow, M.D., from Seattle Children's Hospital conducted a study. He looked at the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS). The study included 13,060 children who were followed to the age of 50 years old. The study found 265 cases of heart disease in the childhood survivors as well as 295 incidents of stroke. In other words, childhood cancer survivors need to be aware of potential issues down the road as a result of cancer treatment.

"We have a responsibility to all the kids and their families that we're treating to give them the full story," Dr. Chow says. "We don't want kids to just to be cured of their cancer just to die of something else and not have a healthy, productive life."

So, what is the answer for childhood cancer survivors who may face heart disease and stroke later in life? Well, they should see a cardiologist, regularly. I'm not a doctor, but personally, I believe this could greatly lower the chances of ending up horizontal and unconscious in front of a Christmas tree.
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