medical miracles and misconceptions

Disappearances happen in science: Disease can suddenly fade away, tumors go missing, we open someone up to discover the cancer is gone. It’s unexplained, it’s rare, but it happens. We call it misdiagnosis, say we never saw it in the first place; any explanation but the truth: That life is full of vanishing acts. There *are* medical miracles. Being worshippers at the alter of science, we don’t like to believe miracles exist, but they do. Things happen. We can’t explain them, we can’t control them, but they *do* happen. Miracles *do* happen in medicine. They happen every day. Just not always when we need them to happen.

The past few months I have been working on a research project for my organic biology class on pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Acute leukemia is the most common childhood malignancy, which accounts for approximately one third of all pediatric cancers. ALL constitutes about 75% of pediatric acute leukemias, in the United States is approximately 3.4 cases per 100,000 individuals less than 15 years of age. Children with ALL develop symptoms related to infiltration of blasts in the bone marrow, lymphoid system, and extramedullary sites, such as the central nervous system.

“The overall 5-year survival of children who received all of their doses of standard chemotherapy was significantly better — 81 percent — than those who missed doses — 58 percent. This significant difference was observed in children with both high-risk ALL (72 percent survival versus 49 percent survival for those who missed doses) and standard-risk ALL (85 percent survival versus 63 percent).”

Having worked at a pediatric specialty hospital, I am a bit tainted by this some-days I feel like through what I have seen, these rates should be much higher, there is so much that we can do for these patients compared to what we could do 5 years ago. There are miracles, children who other physicians have given a “death sentence” on remission, come through with flying colors -while other children, just disappear. Its not fair. It baffles me how vulnerable yet resilient these little angels can be.