September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Of course, as a mom, you don’t need to be reminded of the “what-ifs” in life. You’re more than aware of every possibility when it comes to your child’s health and happiness, and you’re determined to stand in the way and prevent any and all dangers that could happen.
But sometimes you just can’t, and preventing childhood cancer is one example. Childhood cancer impacts about 16,000 children and adolescents in the U.S. each year. And that means it is impacting about as many moms, their siblings, and other family members, too. As big and scary as hearing that tough diagnosis is, the truth is, childhood cancer isn’t something that you or anyone else can stop from happening. (Yet.)
What You Can Do
While some syndromes exist that can predispose a child to develop cancer, for the vast majority of kids with a new cancer diagnosis, we do not have a clear understanding of why it happened. Certainly, it wasn’t because of risky life choices or other habits. So that means parents can’t prevent their kids from getting sick. Instead, they can seek out the best care possible in their region.
For moms in the St. Louis area, there’s a great choice right in your backyard. Research taking place at centers like Siteman Kids at St. Louis Children’s Hospital is learning more and more, turning childhood patients into life-long survivors. The National Institute of Health’s review of childhood cancer cases documented that 85% of children diagnosed with cancer survived for five years (or more) because of breakthroughs that are happening each day. That’s a lot of kids who are playing, laughing, and (probably) getting into trouble today!
Looking Forward to a Long Life
It’s true that the best way to think about childhood cancer is to find the best care team for your child if they were to get sick; it is also true that you can take steps now to promote your child being cancer-free their whole life. Fostering good habits now can reduce the risk of cancer in your kiddo (and in you, too)!
Be a Role Mo(m)del
It’s not a secret. Your kid watches you, carefully. All. Of. The. Time. (Hello, no privacy in the bathroom!) But that also means you can be a role model for behaviors you want your child to pick up. They are your mini, after all. So don’t just tell— show your kiddo each of the following ways to lower cancer risk, and you can all be on a healthier path.
1.) Veg Out
You’re no stranger to saying, “eat your vegetables,” but did you know having a diet rich in plants and whole grains reduces cancer risk? Weaving in days like “Meatless Mondays” have become a practical and popular way to keep both people and the planet healthy. Not sure where to start? Swap in an “impossible” burger for red meat and replace Lunchables with their processed lunch meats for a homemade equivalent with fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
2.) Show Your Curiosity
Alcohol and drinking are linked to several cancers, and recently published research indicates even small amounts have big health risks. So limiting or eliminating drinking in your household is smart, AND it is becoming popular. Younger people are proudly becoming sober-curious, questioning consumption altogether, reducing “social drinking” pressure, which is great for your child to see as they grow. Less peer pressure, more (tasty!) non-alcoholic options, and embracing times of year to not drink (Dry January) are becoming more common, which may be worth cheers-ing about.
3.) Dream On
You know to limit your kids’ screen time, but are you monitoring when gadgets are turned off and where they are kept? Keeping devices out of rooms and turned off well before bedtime are part of what is called good “sleep hygiene.” Sleep hygiene practices help set slumbers up well so that your child gets deeper, longer sleep. That goes for you, too! Quality sleep helps our bodies recover from and get ready for our days mentally and physically, so have a set routine for all people in your house to set and keep a good example.
4.) Keep Movin’ and Groovin’
Some kids you can’t stop from being up and about, which is super! And others need a little encouragement to find their inner wiggle worm. Being active is one of the best ways to reduce cancer risk. It prevents weight gain, keeps minds engaged, boosts mental health, and more! Sometimes sports are great, but not all kids love being competitive. They can feel uncoordinated or may be self-conscious. That’s okay and relatable! If it isn’t fun, it won’t last. (We see you, 2020 Peloton purchasers.) Get creative and notice what they gravitate towards (besides TV).
5.) Breathe Easy
It’s hard to picture your little one holding a cigarette or vape pen, but someday, they may think it’s a cool thing to try. Make sure your kid knows that even if it looks fun or smells or tastes like candy, it can have long-term side effects. And if someone they love or look up to does smoke, vape, or chew, talk to them about the choices they have. Privately set up boundaries with friends and family who do smoke or vape so that your child isn’t breathing in second-hand smoke or vapor, too. If you are trying to quit yourself, keep it up! You can seek out programs if you want extra support.
6.) Rub It In
Your kid’s skin is so sensitive. Just a short period of time outside can result in sobbing, aloe, and oatmeal baths. Thankfully, wearing sunscreen and SPF-level clothing like hats, shirts, and pants are options for blocking the sun’s rays. No matter what color skin your kids have, taking care to limit sun exposure helps prevent melanoma, an aggressive and very deadly form of cancer. Sunscreen isn’t just for summertime activities. Applying and reapplying lotion all year round lowers risks and can keep skin healthy and bright for years to come. Keep a tube in your purse, backpack, and car so it is always in reach for spontaneous play dates.
7.) Take Your Best Shot(s)
Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a virus spread through sexual contact and is one that can develop into cancers in both men and women, sometimes before they are 21. That’s why doctors recommend that kids get vaccinated before kids are ever exposed. The great news is vaccinations are causing the rate of these cancers, like cervical cancer, to drop. And an exciting development is that the vaccine has been approved for older adults as well. So moms, if you are younger than 45, you may be able to be vaccinated for HPV too! Ask your pediatrician for your kiddo and your primary care for yourself to start the three-shot series together.
8.) Know “Where” for Care
You know this: it’s essential to keep up with yearly physicals and establish a relationship with a regular medical provider for your kiddo. If an emergency need comes up (and it probably will!), make sure your child is seen by a pediatric expert.
Did you know St. Louis Children’s Hospital has six pediatric ER locations across the St. Louis and southern Illinois region? These include:
Adopting healthy habits, modeling them to your kids, and encouraging them to make small changes over time can help your whole family reduce their cancer risks. Learn more about Siteman Cancer Center’s 8ightWays® here.