Effects of Childhood Cancer Can Linger Long After Disease Is Gone
Jan. 17, 2001 -- Twenty-five-year-old Matthew McKee might have dreamed at
one time of playing for a professional sports team. But 10 years ago, when he
was an athletic teenager playing four high school sports, that dream was cut
short when he was diagnosed with
"I grew up very athletic and sports-minded," McKee says. "After
the diagnosis was made, I tried to keep up with my sports, but I had to give it
up. The chemotherapy wiped me out, and I'd come home
A year later, the Hodgkin's reappeared and McKee, his doctors,
and parents decided the best course of treatment was a bone marrow transplant.
He tells WebMD that he tends to "block out" a lot of what happened during the
treatment and his recovery. But he remembers it as a lonely time. He was in
isolation at the hospital for 30 days and for almost half of that only fully
suited medical personnel could be in the room. After that, visitors still had
to be garbed in medical scrubs and masks.
Returning home didn't lift many of the restrictions. He was
tutored for a semester and could only leave the house for doctors' appointments
and he had to wear a surgical mask for those ventures.
"I was so susceptible to infection we were even told I couldn't
eat anything that anyone from outside the family brought for us," he
Now coordinator of season ticket operations for the Dallas
Stars hockey team and the Texas Rangers baseball team, McKee is married, fully
recovered, and looks forward to visits with his doctors at Cook Children's
Medical Center in Fort Worth.
He has no fears of returning disease or any physical side
effects from the traumatic illness and treatment, other than some arthritis-like changes in a
hip that might be linked to chemotherapy. "I'm confident that I'm healthy,"
McKee says. "The first couple of years when I'd go back for my checkups, it was
in the back of my mind that they might find something. But now I don't think
about it." Not all childhood cancer survivors share McKee's confident attitude
and outlook, however.
According to a study recently published in the Journal of
Clinical Oncology, one-fifth of the 78 childhood cancer survivors that were
surveyed have symptoms consistent with posttraumatic
stress disorder, a condition often associated with postwar phenomena that
includes persistently re-experiencing the traumatic event emotionally or
physically, feeling emotionally numb, and avoiding reminders of the event.
The researchers, from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
at the University of Pennsylvania, the Children's Hospital at Strong in
Rochester, N.Y., UCLA, and the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, write that
some of those who experience this problem may tend to be anxious about other
things also. In addition, they may not have received all the counseling
necessary to deal with long-term effects of cancer and treatment.