NewsAnnouncements : Murtha Cancer Center Hosts Inaugural Childhood Cancer Summit

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Murtha Cancer Center Hosts Inaugural Childhood Cancer Summit


By Bernard S. Little

WRNMMC Command Communications​

The John P. Murtha Cancer Center at Walter Reed Bethesda hosted its inaugural Childhood Cancer Summit Sept. 20.

Families, caregivers and others observe Childhood Cancer Awareness Month during September, focusing on the nearly 70,000 young adults 15 to 39 years of age diagnosed with cancer in the United States annually, according to Dr. Amin Herati, a urologist from Johns Hopkins University. Herati served as one of the speakers during the day-long summit at WRB.

“Advances in detection, treatment and survivorship have shifted the focus of survivorship care plans towards quality of life,” Herati added.

Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Dina Parekh, chief of Pediatric Hematology Oncology at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, agreed, crediting the multi-disciplinary family approach to care and holistic effort in cancer detection and treatment to advances survivorship.

“What we do as oncologists, and the medicine of it, is not hard. We take a diagnosis, we follow a recipe, [and] we come up with a plan. Much of the time it can be pretty unremarkable. But what we can do as a team with social workers, nurses, surgeons, oncologists, urologists, gynecologists, patient navigators and the patients, all talking together, is truly phenomenal,” Parekh added. “[Although] pediatric survivorship is growing day-by-day, we can always strive for better,” she furthered.

Annually, more than 1,000 active duty service members receive a cancer diagnosis, said retired Army Col. (Dr.) Craig D. Shriver, director of the Murtha Cancer Center, which is the only Cancer Center of Excellence in the Department of Defense. He said many of those diagnosed are young adults.

“From a childhood cancer perspective, survey after survey show that for service members deployed and not deployed, care of their family members is the No. 1 morale issue. If you’re over in a theater of conflict and your child gets a diagnosis, you’re probably not going to be fully mission ready unless you feel comfortable your family is being taken care of in the best possible way,” Shriver continued.

He stressed the importance of hearing from cancer survivors who shared their stories during the summit at WRNMMC. One of those survivors, Carly Allphin, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Ewing’s sarcoma about two and half years ago. She was 14. An MRI found nine tumors throughout her spine.

Krista Allphin, Carly’s mother, said that day in April 2016 when her daughter was diagnosed “is sealed in her brain. It was probably the worst day of my life.” Krista added the bright spot was the staff at WRNMMC, who helped her family understand what to expect, treatment options and side effects regarding Carly’s care. “It was a major whirlwind,” she recalled.

Carly admits that fertility preservation wasn’t at the forefront of her mind when she received her diagnosis. However, an important part of cancer treatment is to carefully evaluate each person’s medical situation, goals for parenthood and cancer treatment plan, speakers at the summit stressed. Sperm and egg cells are vulnerable to cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation, which Carly received. Fertility preservation calls for collecting and protecting sperm or egg cells prior to cancer treatment so they are not damaged, and Carly underwent the procedure prior to her treatment.

“We now have this hope for these frozen follicles that are [stored] in Baltimore, and we’re thankful for our doctors who didn’t give up,” said Krista. Carly agreed.

Erin Craig shared similar sentiments. On Dec. 22, 2017, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid and monocytic leukemia. She was 20.

“Children were not on my mind at the time, but I knew that I wanted to have that choice down the road. It is a shock to hear that there’s a very large chance that I will never regain function in my ovaries after going through the amount of chemotherapy I went through, total body radiation and the bone marrow transplant,” Craig continued.

“What’s so jarring about that from the patient side is you’re not only hearing about how this is going to affect you right now, but this is going to have effects on the rest of your life. This is going to completely change how you move forward,” said Craig.

“I’m grateful my doctors said, ‘We’re not only going to look at the next six months, but we’re going to look at this holistically, not just how this is going to affect you medically and emotionally, but how this is going to affect your life going forward, and the importance that fertility might have to you one day. I’m really incredibly appreciative of that focus and foresight to see what I might need down the line. It was a discussion we had and it came down to [providers saying] ‘This is your decision.’ I was given the choice and I think that was the really important part,” Craig explained.

Dr. Veronica Gomez-Lobo, director of Washington Hospital Center Pediatric and Adolescent Ob/Gyn, discussed the current state of oncofertility, adding that children born after fertility preservation don’t have a higher rate of cancer birth defects.

In addition to Herati, Navy (Dr.) Lt. Cmdr. Janelle Fox also discussed cancer and young males. Fox addressed prepubertal oncofertility while Herati focused on the postpubertile male. As with other speakers at the summit, both agreed that fertility preservation should be addressed with patients and their families as early after diagnosis as possible. Fox recommended people visit the Save My Fertility site at http://www.savemyfertility.org/ for more information regarding fertility preservation.

Stacee Springer and Meghan Fitzgibbon, licensed clinical social workers at WRNMMC who work with adolescent and young adult beneficiaries as part of the Adolescent Young Adult Oncology Team at the medical center, explained the Murtha Cancer Center Fertility Preservation Policy.

Implemented in February 2017 with a goal of standardizing the initiation of the fertility preservation discussion, Springer and Fitzgibbon explained the purpose of the fertility preservation policy at WRNMMC is to “ensure a consistent approach to addressing fertility preservation throughout the Murtha Cancer Center.” In addition, the policy provides “minimum standards for addressing infertility risk in cancer patients.”

The summit also included a question and answer session with participants, as well as a family break-out session.

Upcoming events hosted by the Murtha Cancer Center include the 2018 Breast Cancer Summit on Oct. 17 at 8 a.m. in Building 2’s Memorial Auditorium, and the 2018 Lung Cancer Summit and Awareness Day scheduled for Nov. 9 at 8 a.m. in the America Building, Great Lakes Conference Rooms (2525).