Cancer, a topic that most people don’t want to talk about. Pediatric Cancer? Even worse, and a very scary topic being a mother myself. Recently I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Teena Bhatla, the director of pediatric hematology-oncology atThe Valerie Fund Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, an RWJBarnabas Health facility. Dr. Bhatla specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of children, adolescents and young adults with cancer and blood disorders. Her area of expertise is pediatric hematologic malignancies including relapsed childhood leukemias and is closely involved with Children’s Oncology group in developing novel therapies for recurrent and relapsed leukemias.
I wanted to learn a bit more about her job, research, and ways that we as parents could help spread awareness about pediatric cancer and blood disorders. I asked Dr. Bhatla a few questions that I hope you’ll find helpful.
Q: “Tell me a little bit about yourself, your professional background”
A : I’ve been involved with pediatrics for 10 + years now. I started my career in India where I went to medical school, and then I did my residency with pediatrics at Brooklyn NYU, in New York City. Last year I became the Director of pediatric hematology-oncology at the Valerie Fund Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.”
Q: “What are some tips and advice you have for your patients,and mothers of your patients especially?”
A : “Don’t drive yourself crazy, it’s not your fault. Cancer is devastating. Most times kids are healthy and playing 1-2 weeks prior to diagnosis, so it comes as a real shock to the parents and patients. I like to remind them that most of the time it’s curable, and there are good outcomes! I like to reassure them, and remind them to take it one day at a time. I’m also honest with them, and let them know it’s difficult to predict how someone is going to react to treatment, and that it will be a process.”
Q: “What is the number one question or topic you’ve been asked about by your patients and their parents?”
A : The first question I get almost always is, “Will my child be okay? Will my child be cured?” Most parents think their child is going to die, and their first concern is survival. The reality of it though is most blood disorders and childhood cancers are treatable.
Q: “What are some symptoms to look for in your child?”
A : “The types of symptoms vary with each cancer. Make sure your child can still perform routine activities like eatingfine, etc. With Leukemia, you want to look out for fevers or infections, pale skin, anemia, lethargy; anything that isn’t in your child’s usual “normal”. If they usually love playing outside and now they just want to lie on the couch all day, that’s outside of the normal. Activity tells everything about a child. With a brain tumor your child could have trouble walking, speech challenges, lethargy, swelling in the back or neck–again, anything outside of normal.”
Q: “How can we as mothers help spread awareness about childhood cancer? How can we support finding a cure?”
A: “Funding for research is needed and helpful. Donate to causes and create foundations. Anything is helpful. I believe it’s important for parents, patients, and people to be informed. Having all the info allows someone to make an informed decision so that one day they don’t look back wishing they had tried something different because they didn’t know.”
Thank you Dr. Bhatla for speaking with me! I hope this interview can is helpful and those reading this were able to learn something!