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Effects of Childhood Cancer Can Linger Long After Disease Is Gone

WebMD Health News

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 Hodgkin's disease.


"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 vomiting."


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 recalls.


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.

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