Wednesday, December 30, 2015
As far as I know, Pediatric Leukemia has never been treated in Togo. During my first two years in Togo, we did not venture into the possibility of treating this illness. The cost, the duration, the availability of medications--it all seemed impossible. In the year 2014, a Pediatric Oncology group from the University of Louisville heard about Togo and how children diagnosed with leukemia are sent home without the hope of treatment. Directly after my presentation, the Chief of the Heme/Onc department approached me to say, "This is unacceptable. What do we need to do?". After some headaches in finding the necessary medications and the long wait in finding a patient (many children with Leukemia are never appropriately diagnosed, or diagnosed and sent home, never making their way to us), a young 6 year old girl from our local town came into the hospital. She was diagnosed with High Risk ALL leukemia. Although our new protocol was in place, it wasn't what she needed for her advanced stages. Some adjustments were made to the protocol in order to try and give her a change at survival and treatment started. The entire hospital was learning together: New medications, safety protocols, Central Line education. The entire missionary team got involved with providing movies to watch, making her cards, bringing toys and games, learning to color. For about 5 weeks she was stuck in her room as she became the first child to be treated for leukemia in Togo. Meanwhile, our staff and chaplains tried to encourage her family through the hope of the Gospel.
Yesterday, we re-checked her Bone Marrow to determine if her first phase of chemotherapy was effective; it would determine whether she could go on with treatment or continue on with comfort measures only. We prayed and prayed that the bone marrow results would be clear, so that there would be no doubt as to which road to take. Under 5% meant that she could go on, the chemo worked. Over 20% meant that her response wasn't enough and giving more chemo wouldn't help her. The gray zone was what we prayed to avoid as it would be a battle of the unknown-- continue on with treatment knowing that our little resources might be used up without improving her survival, or stopping treatment when more could help. "Please Lord, be clear".
After a long wait, her bone marrow was complete: 26%. Our hearts were broken. Very broken. We had done more than we could and were sure that the Lord would "reward" us with our efforts and prayer for this sweet girl. We spoke with her parents and explained the results. We prayed with them and assured them that we would continue care for her so that she could have comfortable weeks at home, enjoying her brothers and sisters. We would see her each week and decide if she needs re-admittance to the hospital when the end comes.
You may be thinking, "that's why leukemia isn't treated in Togo."
I would say, "this is exactly why leukemia needs to be treated in Togo."
Every child deserves a chance of survival. In the cases where survival isn't possible, they deserve dignity in death and a hope that this world is not our home. Their families deserve to know what sickness has taken their child, and to make decisions as to how they are cared for until the Lord takes their child home. Nangeta will likely not make it to see spring, humanly speaking. But her and her family have now heard about the hope of Christ and that is never a waste.
One week before our results came in for Nangeta, a little 4 year-old boy, Martin, came to us with complaints consistent with a cancer diagnosis. After a few days it was evident that he, too, has leukemia. This time, a low risk ALL diagnosis--a very good survival rate. In some ways it seems to be the Lord's confirmation that we need to continue on with our efforts in making sure these children are given a chance at life. In some ways, it's daunting to start down this road so soon after the crushing blow.
Please pray for Nangeta and her family and we continue to minister to them during a difficult time.
Pray for Martin and his family and he begins a difficult journey towards hopeful healing. Pray for continued partnerships that make treatments like this possible for the children of Togo, and thank you to everyone who has already given of their time, prayer and finances to lift us up.
"For as the Heavens are higher than the Earth, so are My ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:9
To give directly towards helping children with cancer at the Hospital of Hope, go to www.abwe.org/give and use the account number 0763833-002.