When Craig Ulster, six, complained about his stomach pain to his mother Taryn Ulster, she thought it was just an appendix issue.
But little did the Cape Town mom know that her son had cancer.
“Craig was complaining about abdominal pain and I thought it was a stomach bug. When we took him to the doctor, we were told that they had to do emergency surgery because his appendix had ruptured.”
“After an hour of waiting, the doctor came back and told us that during the surgery they had found a tumour next to his kidney,” says Ulster.
After a few tests, the doctor discovered that Craig had childhood clear-cell sarcoma of the kidney (CCSK).
According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), CCSK is a rare type of kidney cancer accounting for three percent of all paediatric renal tumours.
Clear-cell sarcoma of the kidney can spread from the kidney to other organs, most commonly the bone, but also the lungs, brain, and soft body tissue.
Despite the similarities in names, clear-cell sarcoma of the kidney is unrelated to clear-cell sarcoma of soft tissue, also known as malignant melanoma of soft parts.
Craig’s cancer has been in remission for almost a year now and his mother says they’re eternally grateful to the doctor who spotted the cancer before it was too late.
September marks Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about the importance of early detection.
According to a 2014 report by the American Cancer Society, it is now estimated that one in 408 children worldwide will be diagnosed with cancer before the age of 15.
Yet with early detection and treatment at paediatric oncology units, globally the survival rate can be as high as between 70 percent and 80 percent, depending on the type of cancer.
Taryn Seegers is the communications co-ordinator for the Childhood Cancer Foundation South Africa (CHOC).
She says childhood cancer is highly curable with survival rates of around 80 percent in developed countries, yet in low and middle-income countries, tens of thousands of children die needlessly every year from the disease - most dying without any effective pain relief.
“Poor diagnosis, coupled with too few specially trained doctors and nurses and the mistaken belief that childhood cancer is difficult to cure, create very low survival rates.”
The most common childhood cancers are leukaemia, lymphoma (tumours that begin in the lymph glands), brain tumours, nephroblastomas or Wilms tumours - cancer of the kidneys and soft tissue sarcomas.
Seegers says educating the public on the early warning signs of childhood cancer is important because an early diagnosis can lead to a positive outcome.
She advises that parents seek medical help early for ongoing symptoms, like white spots in the eye, a new squint, sudden blindness or bulging eyeballs and lumps in the stomach, pelvis, head, arms, legs, testicles or glands.
Unexplained fever for over two weeks, weight loss, fatigue, a pale appearance, easy bruising and bleeding are other symptoms.