Tue | Dec 1, 2020

Children battling cancer make use of virtual learning

Published:Saturday | October 31, 2020 | 12:13 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter

While there are concerns about online learning from different sectors, the opportunity to attend classes, even while hospitalised, has been a welcome one for children with chronic medical conditions such as those diagnosed with cancer.

Paediatric oncologist at The University Hospital of the West Indies, Dr Michelle Reece-Mills, said that while some children undergoing active therapy might tend to be fatigued and would therefore find it challenging to participate in classes, the majority have been making use of virtual learning.

“Their number-one desire is to attend school, so online access affords that opportunity, even while in hospital,” she told The Gleaner.

The UHWI Department of Child and Adolescent Health (Paediatric Oncology Division) has been seeing, on average, eight new cases of paediatric cancer each year, with the top three cancers being leukaemia, brain tumour and lymphoma. More than 60 per cent of children diagnosed with cancer will be alive two years post diagnosis.

Virtual classes became necessary when the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to shutter in March. Online classes have perhaps been the only good spin-off from the pandemic for children with cancer.

Added anxiety

“The COVID pandemic has added an element of anxiety to these children who already have some psychological distress due to an illness that is potentially life-threatening,” Dr Reece-Mills said.

The pandemic has also caused a delay in treatment in some instances, as children with positive diagnosis have to be isolated.

“Children admitted electively have to do COVID testing prior to admission. We try to proceed with their medication as quickly as possible to prevent a return of their cancer,” the doctor explained.

Some parents find it even more challenging to finance their child’s treatment as a result of losing their jobs during the pandemic. The division has its own challenges too, as funds are needed to purchase chemotherapeutic drugs and devices integral to the care of these children.

The Lions Club of Mona just recently donated $50,000 towards the unit. Dr Reece-Mills said they are also in need of blood to help the children with their treatment.

“The pandemic has narrowed the focus to the management of that condition [COVID-19] and little else. We aim to continue offering quality care to patients with acute and chronic conditions, while paying attention to personal safety.

Relying more on telemedicine and reducing face-to-face contact has become key,” said the paediatric oncologist in explaining how the pandemic has affected the staff.