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Surviving cancer as a child: this is the life of a patient 20 years later

In 1998, at the age of nine, Alejandra Rodríguez was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer: a rhabdomyosarcoma of the alveolar type, whose incidence is one case per million children and adolescents, according to data from the State Cancer Institute. United. His treatment included intrathecal chemotherapy (delivered to the spinal cord) and radiotherapy for a year and a half.

Twenty years later, this Mexican is a journalist specialized in business and a survivor of childhood cancer. "There are times when I see my photos and it seems incredible to me that I am that person," he tells Verne, via telephone. "I see them and suddenly I wonder how I was doing to laugh at that moment," he says.

Cancer is the leading cause of death of children and adolescents in Mexico, according to Information from the Ministry of Health. On World Childhood Cancer Day, the health authority indicates that between 5,000 and 6,000 new cases are presented each year. Although there are minors who conclude a treatment, not in all cases the disease is survived. "When cancer treatment ends and it has been successful, it enters the survival period," he explains. Verne José Carlos Gutiérrez-Niño, general director of the Mexican Association of Aid to Children with Cancer (AMANC). "You enter a surveillance period between three and five years. After that we talk about survival, "he says.

In the survival period, the cancer can return or develop a new one, charging the patient's life. According to the World Health Organization in 2018, the survival rate of Mexican minors is 51% of cases, while in low-income countries the rate decreases to 20%. "To improve the indexes it is necessary to have better records, to have information well localized in a national census," says Gutiérrez-Niño.

The fight against cancer does not end even when you are a survivor. In the first place, there are the physical sequelae derived from an oncological treatment. "I had a slight cardiac damage due to a medication called epirubicin. Sometimes I have blockages and circulation problems, "Rodríguez explains. "In general I lead a normal life, but I have to do annual studies of X-rays and blood chemistry to see that everything is fine," says Alejandra.

In the second place, cancer also breaks the social relations of the sick. "I lived a lot bullying the times I went to school to take exams so as not to miss the school year, "recalls the journalist. "The children said that it was very disgusting and that they were going to get cancer when they knew it was not contagious," she says.

According to the AMANC, they have dealt with cases of employment discrimination for survivors. "Some companies stop hiring them for fear of developing the disease and may generate losses for health insurance," he says. "I did not have that, but I think it's because you know more about cancer than twenty years ago," says Rodriguez.

In Mexico there are no data, but in 2013 the Spanish Group of Patients with Cancer revealed that three out of ten survivors have felt discriminated against. "The use of wigs in children and adolescents is a sensitive issue too," says Gutiérrez-Niño. "We are promoters that are accepted with or without hair," says the director of the AMANC. "I'm against wigs because I think it's part of the disease," says Rodriguez.

Two decades later, this Mexican woman leads a healthy life, where she has to control her food consumption. He recognizes that having had cancer at an early age was something that will remain for a lifetime. "Sometimes I feel more anxious to live than to die, because if you live is to do things well," he reflects.

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