When Malakiyah Johnson was constantly throwing up for a week, his family knew something was wrong.
Subsequent testing would later reveal that the three-year old had pediatric hepatoblastoma, a cancer of the liver. Since his diagnosis in April, Johnson has undergone a surgery at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to remove two-thirds of his liver. Now he is getting ready to start his fourth round of chemotherapy. Hepatoblastoma is a childhood cancer that primarily affects children from infancy to about five years of age.
Malakiyah’s mother Shana Yee feared the worst when she learned that he has a one in 10 chance of survival. Thus far, he’s faring well. Sept. 11 marked his third birthday. While Malakiyah is too young to realize what is going on, Yee says he does find being poked with needles traumatizing.
“Everything is looking up so far. He’s beating the odds — so far,” says Yee.
Yee is sharing her story as a part of CHOP’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month campaign. CHOP has launched “30 Days, 1 Cause,” an advertising and social media campaign to bring the issue of funding for pediatric cancer research to the forefront.
Yee is appreciative of CHOP’s efforts to raise awareness around the issue of childhood cancer.
“Anything that helps people be aware, I’m all for it. It just helps to get our story out there. It needs to get out there because people need to be aware of the things that could happen and they need to keep a closer eye on their kids,” says Yee, who is a Montgomery county resident.
“I knew that cancer was out there. I knew that it could affect anybody, but I never knew that cancer affected kids the way it did, until I started coming to CHOP.”
Cancer is the leading cause of death in children under the age of 15. While significant progress has been made in the last 50 years, 20 percent of children diagnosed with cancer still die from the disease. Children diagnosed with cancer are often treated with drugs developed more than 30 years ago, which may cure their cancer but may harm developing healthy cells. To that end, CHOP researchers are working to find new therapies. The push for new therapies comes at a time when funding allocations from the National Institutes of Health are shrinking due to the challenging economic times.
“We can’t move things forward without really significant research, and the research costs a lot of money. Children need different kinds of treatment than adults with cancer. There’s been an explosion in new kinds of cancer drugs out there but we really need the research funding and the ability to do the research to see which of these drugs are appropriate for the children’s cancers,” says Dr. Ann Reilly, medical director, oncology at CHOP.
“In addition to looking for new therapies we are always looking for therapies that are better tolerated, with less side effects so that as children grow up, they grow healthier with less long term problems.”
According to Reilly, CHOP treats approximately 450 children who are newly diagnosed with cancer per year. While brain tumors are the most prevalent among children, CHOP specialists are also treating solid tumors of the organs, leukemias and lymphomas.
The “30 Days, 1 Cause” campaign encourages the community to support pediatric cancer research and survivorship programs by taking steps such as donating to the Cancer Center at CHOP or by participating in the Four Seasons Philadelphia Parkway Run/Walk on September 30.
For information about the campaign, visit www.30days1cause.org.