Despite a difficult few months, Heena’s cheeky grin radiates as she sits on her bed playing with her father. Six-year-old Heena is being treated for cancer at Kanti Children’s Hospital (KCH) - she was diagnosed a year ago, after multiple trips to numerous hospitals and multiple misdiagnoses.
When we met Heena, she was joined by her dad Dhurva and mum Urmila whose lives have changed a lot since discovering their daughter has cancer. Dhurva tells us:
Before being diagnosed, Heena’s parents had travelled to Kathmandu to what they were told were two of the best private hospitals in the city in hopes of discovering what was wrong with their daughter. The reports at both hospitals showed nothing – they were told Heena had a common illness that would go away with a quick course of medication. When Heena did not get any better, her parents realised that it must be something more serious. This is when they decided to go to Kanti Children’s Hospital (KCH).
Similar stories are not uncommon in low-and middle-income countries. Many families, communities and even healthcare professionals do not understand what childhood cancer is and how it manifests itself. In some countries there are stigmas and misconceptions surrounding cancer. Cancer may be misunderstood as being contagious or may be associated with negative superstitions. All of these things creates a lack of understanding of childhood cancer which often leads to misdiagnosis.
Dhurva and Urmilla were devastated when they found out Heena had cancer. They tell us she is the love of their life and became really worried, especially when their neighbours and friends would tell them Heena wouldn’t survive. Dhurva and Urmilla were in great emotional pain and initially didn’t know how to cope.
Like many other families at KCH, Heena’s family are struggling with the financial costs of cancer treatment but they tell us they have become more emotionally resilient as time has gone on. They find comfort in meeting other parents and children in similar situations. Heena also keeps occupied by painting at her bed. Dhurva says:
Heena’s parents are now hopeful and look forward to the recovery process – staying by her side through it all.
Heena's family have faced barriers along the way that could have been avoided. World Child Cancer works to raise awareness of childhood cancer in low-and middle-income countries in order to inform communities and healthcare professionals alike of the early warning signs and symptoms of childhood cancer. This ensures more children, like Heena, do not have to travel to multiple hospitals for a diagnosis are diagnosed at an early stage of their cancer.
A donation of £16 a month for a year could pay for the production of a radio campaign aimed at creating awareness of the early warning signs of childhood cancer amongst the general public. With better awareness we can provide more children with a faster route to better treatment. Television and radio appearances are vital to reaching rural influencers such as healthcare workers, spiritual healers and families.