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A BETTER WAYThrough the Eyes of a ChildDawie FourieTraditional cancer treatments revolve around surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments – each approach coming with its own set of anxieties, discomfort and trauma for the patient – and even more so for the child patient. New methods of treating the dreaded disease, fortunately, are less intimidating, more targeted, and more efficient. Techniques such as multi-parametric-magnetic resonance imaging (mp-MRI) and fluorescence lifetime imaging (FLI) effectively locate and isolate specific threats, so that pharmaceuticals and other types of treatments can also be used in a more targeted way.
CAR T-cell therapy, for example, takes some of the patient’s own t-cells (immune cells), adding some genetic material to them, and employing them to attack and destroy the cancer cells. Imagine the comforting news for the child patient: “We are going to teach your own cells to destroy this disease! You are going to beat it yourself - and no more operations and radiation and chemotherapy, okay?”
Austin was diagnosed with leukaemia at age 2. Despite receiving radiation, chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, he relapsed twice – spending the next 7 years in and out of hospital, with all the anxieties of a desperate journey alternating between hopeful, and hopeless, all the while watching it fade from your parents faces. Finally, having been given 6 months to live, his parents discovered CAR T-cell therapy. After stabilising the disease, two injections set two days apart, the healing process truly began. Suffering only a mild fever and a small headache a few days into his journey, he enjoyed the rest of his month’s stay in Philadelphia as any tourist on holiday with mom and dad would. A world away from his earlier experiences!
Having learned the news that he is cancer free in his Halloween costume on a trick or treat mission with friends, he now enjoys fishing and camping – but more telling, he looks forward to his periodic follow-up trips to Philadelphia (especially since he became very good friends with his therapist over the years). Paulina was diagnosed with leukaemia at around age 7. After 3 relapses, and with the cancer now already reaching her spinal fluid - her parents thought they were out of options. at around age 7. After 3 relapses, and with the cancer now already reaching her spinal fluid - her parents thought they were out of options. That is, until a friend of the family made the initial call to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP, the same institution where Austin received his breakthrough).
“I really didn’t understand everything that was happening, but once I reached CHOP I felt safe”, said Paulina. After following the same process as Austin one year before (including the shopping and vacation part!) Paulina also developed a mild headache, but was discharged after only one day. In 2017 (at age 16) she was still cancer free.
Like Austin before her, she enjoys the follow up visits to Philadelphia a lot. Seen through the eyes of Austin and Paulina, the harrowing years of suffering leading up to Philadelphia was bountifully compensated by the CAR T-cell therapy at CHOP, and the great fun of regular family visits to the city of brotherly love. Truly, a better way of treating cancer!