Children's Day at the National Cancer Hospital,
A happy respite
Dr. Tissa Disarathne
Dr Deepal Perera
As celebrations go, spending the day with children suffering from
cancer can be a poignant experience. It can also be special. And it was
on October 1, when Sunday Observer staffers joined students from several
school and institutes to celebrate Children's Day with the children at
the National Cancer Hospital, Maharagama.
The students came bearing biscuits, sweets and special treats. The
Sunday Observer staffers took copies of Junior Observer and Mihira,
hopeful the fun stuff in the kiddies papers would be good substance for
the mind and soul.
For the kids, many of who have to stay for extended periods, and many
of make routine return trips; the visit was a respite from the
tediousness of being ill. It was an opportunity to laugh, joke, have fun
and savour the day that was especially dedicated to them.
Day was not meant to be maudlin, but one couldn't help the sad tales of
hardship, pain, education interrupted and uncertain futures, related by
the parents of the little patients, unable to do much but provide the
love and care that is required, and just be there for them.
"I do not know when my child will be cured and when we will be able
to go home. God has given us a life but our life is full of worries and
depression," says a mother from Batticaloa. Praying daily for the good
health of her child, she says, "As a mother I am unable to bear this. I
came here all the way from Batticaloa with many difficulties. I do not
know anything here and I even cannot understand or speak Sinhala. I am
suffering a lot. The doctors do their best and all the medicines are
free of charge."
Dr Deepal Perera, Senior Consultant Paediatrician, Cancer Hospital,
Maharagama says education facilities are provided for the long term
"We have a library as well. Children can go at anytime and read books
and magazines. There is a playground and an auditorium outside where
these children can perform on stage and show their talents," he says,
elaborating that children can also take part in religious activities
near the Bo-tree outside and that a mother, father or grandmother can
stay with the child.
Over 15,000 Sri Lankan's are diagnosed with cancer each year, of
which 500 are children. "Among the children, leukaemia is the commonest
type of cancer. And most of the leukaemia sufferers are diagnosed with
Acute Lymphatic Leukaemia, which we call ALL," he says, explaining that
80 percent of all cancers are curable if detected early.
Medical Officer, Chammika Gamage
second commonest cancer in children is brain cancer. Many are admitted
with cancer in the eye and the kidney. "If a child gets cancer everyone
gets depressed and they think it is the end of their lives but it is not
so. It is curable with early detection, proper treatment, proper
nutrition and with precautions to prevent from infections," he says.
According to Dr. Perera, the Maharagama Cancer Hospital is the
largest and the most functioning hospital apart from the one which was
recently started in the North. "There are even consultants here who had
leukaemia and recovered. So we should be positive as cancer does not
mean the end of life," he points out.
Dr. Tissa Disarathne attached to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit
(ICU) of the National Cancer Hospital; Maharagama says there are about
200 patients at the children's ward and that children also tend to
suffer from secondary infections such as pneumonia, septicaemia,
meningitis and brain infections.
situation is critical so they are taken into the Intensive Care Unit."
Medical Officer attached to the Paediatric ICU, Chammika Gamage says
they admit 10 to 15 children to the ICU every week. "Only the critical
patients are handled here and once the critical condition is cured they
are sent back to the wards," she adds.
Thuwan Sherald from CanHOPE, a non-profit cancer counselling and
support service initiated by Parkway Cancer Centre in Singapore, who was
also at the Maharagama Cancer Hospital on Children's Day, says CanHOPE
works closely with the medical and allied health professionals, offering
a wide range of resources and information about cancer in helping
patients and their caregivers to make effective, informed decisions in
their treatment journey.
"Today we are here to do a CSR program targeting Maharagama Cancer
Hospital. Every month we do programs such as music therapy, art therapy
and awakening your appetite like what to eat and what not to eat for
children here and especially today for Children's Day, we are creating a
mini Disneyland," he says, explaining the fun stuff planned for the