Under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah, Founder and Royal Patron of the Friends of Cancer Patients (FOCP), and International Ambassador for the World Cancer Declaration of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), FOCP succeeded has succeeded in bringing back vitality and hope to a number of children with cancer among the 4,200 cancer patients and families it has offered financial and moral support.
Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi is also the UICC International Ambassador for Childhood Cancer and Patron of the Global Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) Alliance Forum.
According to latest statistics, 300,000 children are diagnosed with cancer worldwide every year, 80% of whom live in developing countries where survival rate is as low as 20%, compared to 80% in developed countries. Leukemia is the most prevalent childhood cancer, responsible for one-third of occurrence in children less than 15 years of age, and affects 25% children under 20 year-age group. Medical statistics and research confirm that 80% of cancer cases can be fully treated if detected early.
Leukemia is a cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue, usually the bone marrow, leading to overproduction of abnormal white blood cells – part of the immune system that defends the body against infection. A range of risk factors including environmental triggers like exposure to radiation, chemical and radiation treatment as well as cases of congenital immunodeficiency, can cause leukemia.
Marwa, the 18-year old cancer survivor, is one of the best examples of how strong resolve can overcome any challenge. Her survival story bears several inspiring lessons of patience and faith in one’s will to live, no matter what their conditions are. Marwa was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 when she was only seven years old. Sharing her daughter’s battle with cancer, Amina Ahmed Mohammed said: “My daughter first suffered from acute joint pain and sleep disorders –the reason why we took her to a clinic where the doctor recommended that she must undergo a range of medical examinations and blood tests, which eventually determined that she developed leukemia, type ALL.”
Speaking of their family’s experience with FoCP, Amina said: “We were told about FOCP by a teacher at the school were Marwa was enrolled. We contacted the organisation as Marwa’s teacher advised us to do so, and we received the warmest welcome. FOCP provided us with all forms of support, and referred us to Tawam hospital where we stayed permanently for six months. During this time, Marwa was subjected to intensive therapy sessions, and mercifully, she has fully recovered and resumed normal life.”
There is probably no prospect scarier for a parent imagining their child being diagnosed with cancer, and most of the times the shock is paralyzing, and disables parents from thinking straight or taking corrective action.
About her experience, Amina said: “Came as the biggest shock when the doctor broke the news. Eventually, I began assembling my coherence and my efforts to address this critical phase of our lives, especially our daughter’s. I gave myself no choice but to stand by her till she recovered fully.”
She added: “I was full of hope about my daughter’s recovery – a feeling that prompted me to encourage her to respond to treatment, which was difficult for her, especially in the first period. We also received great support and encouragement by FOCP, reassured us about the possibility of complete recovery explaining that the cancer was detected early. Thanks to Allah Almighty, the FOCP and her treating staff at the hospital, Marwa was nursed back to health after six months of treatment. She is quite stable now and continues to take some medications.”
Dr. Sawsan Al Madhi, Director General of FOCP, said: “Coinciding with the International Childhood Cancer Day, which falls on February 15 of each year, it is imperative for us to highlight the immensurable efforts of Sheikha Jawaher to reduce the spread of cancer locally and globally.”
In childhood cancer, especially leukemia, chances of survival increase if detected early, because it is a type of blood and lymphoma malignancy. This disease can be controlled even if cancer cells spread to other parts of the body, if the patient finds immediate care and proper treatment, Dr. Al Madhi noted.
She added: “We advise parents about the importance of observing symptoms and changes in their children – often the key determinant of full recovery. If symptoms like dizziness, nausea, skin itching, headache, fatigue, general body weakness, difficulty breathing and pale skin persist, these are alarm bells that must be heard by parents and taken to the doctor immediately.”
Dr. Al Madhi went on to say: “Parents can play an active role in controlling pain experienced by their offspring dealing with cancers. Togetherness is an essential ingredient, a magical element that tackles pain. Disseminating information to parents is crucial to ensure good care for the sick child. The more parents know about controlling pain, the more effective they will be in alleviating the sufferings of their sick child.”
Sheikha Jawaher’s efforts in fighting childhood cancer
As the UICC International Ambassador for Childhood Cancer and the Patron of the Global Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) Alliance Forum, Sheikha Jawaher has repeated her call for promoting global awareness of childhood cancer and providing the care needed to alleviate the sufferings of young children with cancer.
Over the past few years, Sheikha Jawaher launched several humanitarian initiatives that aimed to improve the health, educational and living conditions of children worldwide. In 2013, she visited the Children’s Cancer Centre of Lebanon, an affiliate of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the USA, where she met with patients and presented a library of children’s books to the hospital.
In April 2014, Sheikha Jawaher participated in the 11th African Conference of International Society for Pediatric Oncology, which was held in Dar-es Salaam, Tanzania, in collaboration with UICC and International Society for Pediatric Oncology. In September the same year, Sheikha Jawaher visited New York-based Presbyterian Cancer Hospital, an affiliate of the Columbia University’s Medical Center where she launched the global initiative ‘Heroes Bag’ – initiative that presents cancer-affected children with special bags containing books, toys and other gifts to bring them happiness and add quality to their lives
Funding PACS System at CCHE 57357 in Egypt
In 2015, Sheikha Jawaher donated EGP 10 million to the Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt (CCHE 57357) in Cairo, the largest pediatric cancer hospital in the Arab region, enabling its administration to introduce the picture and communication archiving system (PACS), which became operational in June 2016.
In May 2015, the hospital opened a new wing named after Sheikha Jawaher in recognition of her generosity in providing financial support for the treatment of children with cancer. A banner displayed at the wing bearing her name and her words of encouragement for young patients: “You are the hero of your story, and you will always be in my heart.”
In January 2018, the emirate hosted a specialist oncology roundtable, ‘Access to Essential Medicines for Children with Cancer’ (Sharjah Portage), under the patronage of Sheikha Jawaher. The event brought together 60 senior officials from international organisations and entities, as well as physicians, health and medical experts from around the world, to address the best solutions for childhood cancer, and treatment essentials like medicines and radiotherapy in low- and middle-income countries. It also sought to provide a strategic action plan that ensures implementing an integrated approach to achieve these objectives.
The event also aimed to define innovative financing mechanisms and identify partners to implement priority initiatives, as well as establish effective communication methods between medical entities and stakeholders in order to coordinate efforts to combat pediatric cancer.