Thoughts of a Greek long-term survivor

Spyridoula Christoforou

Greece

My name is Spyridoula Christoforou, I am from Greece and I am a long-term survivor. I got sick with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of 3 in 1985. I was subjected to medical treatment for 5 years. At the time being I am cured. But I always live with the fear of getting sick again. The Busulfan Cortisone I had to get and the radiotherapy caused thyroid and skin problems later. But except for that I lead a healthy life and have no serious health problems to face. I live a normal life with my family and my friends.

Unfortunately what I never experienced was childhood. When the doctor diagnosed my illness, I was just a little girl, I couldn't understand the seriousness of my situation but I felt that I had to lead a completely different life from all the other kids of my age. I was not allowed to eat salted food, it was forbidden to me to get tired and to stay in the sun. Even playing outside was out of words as I had to be every week and sometimes every day at hospital. Sometimes when I try to remember those days I feel that I grew up quickly. At the age of four or five I had to cooperate with the doctors, to come up with my problems and to discipline myself - for my own good - while all the other children could enjoy the best years of their lives.
After having a very positive relationship with the medical group that was responsible for my treatment, I was encouraged by them to become an active member of FLOGA, the Greek parents association of children with neoplastic diseases. I joined the Association in 1999. My main intention is to come in contact with children, who suffer from these diseases, and their parents and to encourage them to face their problems. For that reason I collaborate with the psychologist of the children's hospital. 

I realized that children really liked my presence near them. They kept on asking me about the treatment and about my life nowadays. Some of them compared their situation with mine. Playing with them helped them to express their feelings and fears. It sounds strange, but how could an adult address such a child who fights for his life day by day, hour by hour?
Should he treat him like a child or like an adult? Actually, I had to deal with mature children who were injured by life.

As for their parents, they kept asking me if their child could ever become as healthy as I am. They were interested to hear about my situation and some of them expressed their worries about their child's future. For them I was an example, a very good and helpful example. Both children and their parents were asking me if I would visit them soon again. When I look into their eyes I feel that I am in their shoes. I would like to tell the people that we, the survivors, can really help those children and their parents to cope with their sickness. Children need someone who has faced the same problems, who can share their worries and fears. I am sure that when they see us they wonder if they ever become as healthy as we are.
As for their parents, we are a proof of what the doctors tell them about the prognosis of the disease. In cooperation with the psychologists and the doctors of the clinic, we can make children understand the seriousness of their situation and help them express their feelings especially if we are close to their age.

Unfortunately, in Greece there is not such a volunteerism on the part of the survivors. Most of them want to forget the past. That's really sad, because if they do so, then they forget who they are and what they can offer to society. All of us must come in contact and create a team available to stand by those children. As I have heard in some European countries such teams visit families who have children with cancer at home, they talk with them and offer them encouragement.

The Greek medical system lacks psychological support. There are only a few persons who work as psychologists with those children. Survivors could offer a lot in that section. To conclude, I would like to thank the ''Newsletter'' magazine for giving me the opportunity to express my thoughts and feelings. Childhood cancer is a problem which becomes more and more serious and for that reason the survivors contribution is very important.

Spyridoula Christoforou
eMail: gzech200@yahoo.com