Cancer doesn’t care. It is the unfeeling, unrelenting foe that lurks in the shadows of our genome. It is that which strikes suddenly without warning. Countless die every year due to the ability of cancer to hide. The tactic that cancer favors? An all-out systemic blitz. Wherever it goes in the body, it has one goal. Destroy. It destroys golden years, happy marriages, friendships, and worst of all it has the ability to destroy a child’s laughter. What then is the answer to this voracious disease? What kind of team is necessary to defeat this affliction? It helps when one of the many talented doctors on the team has already fought and won the fight against cancer. Dr. Lorimar Ramirez was diagnosed with Leukemia as an adolescent and credits her battle with cancer as the reason she got into medicine.
“I wanted to do what they did for me. I wanted to provide outstanding care to these patients that are passing through a rough time with cancer, not only the patient, the family is going through a lot.” -Dr. Lorimar Ramirez
Who better to speak to the difficulties than a warrior who has endured? Dr. Vinod Gidvani-Diaz assembled this team with intent. Intent that another child would never again have to fight this terrible affliction without a well-rounded team of specialists at their disposal. He recruited doctors from a wide variety of backgrounds, each with a unique skill set to bring healing to their patients and families alike. Doctors like Dr. Manny Esquilin, whose sole passion in life for as long as he can remember was to bring healing to others as a doctor. Then you have doctors like Dr. Maria Falcon-Cantrill who can expertly pull critical health information from a child, information that is usually difficult to come by, but critical to winning this battle.
This team stares cancer in the face every single day without blinking. Every single day they are on the frontlines, fighting, smiling, giving these children a reason to believe that hope is real and tangible.
How do they do it? Day in and day out seeing the ravages and havoc that cancer wreaks upon a child? It is a difficult field and many people do not find the right way to cope, but Nurse Practitioner Julie Luke seems to have found the right balance telling us, “I do have a lot of sad stuff in my heart…but I feel like, even if I knew a child for five minutes, and they passed away they would always be in my heart.” The openness and honesty is what helps them cope, not brushing away the sadness that comes, but experiencing it and remembering why it is they are in this profession.
“We save many more patients, many more children, than we lose and so I try to draw strength from that.” -Dr. Manny Esquilin
Through the combined efforts of this diverse team, Pediatric Specialists of Texas at Methodist Children’s Hospital is one of the most prestigious programs in San Antonio and South Texas. Many of their patients will commute far distances or even relocate to San Antonio to be treated by their talented team.
One of the pillars of their success is the early identification and detection of the most common forms of pediatric cancer, Leukemia. Dr. Maria Falcon-Cantrill spoke on different signs and symptoms parents should look for, emphasizing that early detection is key to defeating this unrelenting enemy. Parents should look for limping, or leg pain, both of which are extremely rare for children to suffer outside of cancer. These signs and or symptoms should be taken seriously and a doctor should be seen immediately with direct attention paid to a complete blood count (CBC).
“An eight-month-old child is not going to tell you what they are feeling, so I really am proud of being able to sit there and play with them and get not only the physical manifestations that need to come out, but also look at their emotional well-being.” -Dr. Maria Falcon-Cantrill
If some of these symptoms begin to surface, it is absolutely imperative that testing takes place as soon as possible to either confirm or dismiss a diagnosis. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia has a 90% survival rate when caught early and Acute Myeloid Leukemia a 67% survival rate for persons under the age of 20. What do these numbers tell us about the battle against pediatric cancer? We are winning and 5-year survival rates are not only up, but continuing to climb. The patients and families are winning. The unifying theme, as Dr. Gidvani-Diaz, the program director, makes clear is the element of compassion they all bring to the table. It is compassion that drives Dr. Esquilin, a man who has known his life’s purpose from the age of six. It is compassion that keeps the patients forever in the heart of Nurse Practitioner Julie Luke. What drives Dr. Ramirez, the compassion and care she received as a 12-year old undergoing cancer treatment. How do you get critical health information from a child? The compassion and understanding of Dr. Falcon-Cantrill.
“What we offer them is a multi-disciplinary support system, we become almost part of their family and they become part of our family when we take care of them. We really look at these kids and these families as part of our own, which I think allows us to expand the compassion we have for them.” -Dr. Gidvani-Diaz
Compassion, knowledge, diverse experiences, and backgrounds, one common goal, to fight childhood cancer with the tenacity, spirit, and candidness of a child, who knows no fear. When cancer doesn’t care, they do. This is Pediatric Specialists of Texas.
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