BEIRUT: Sixteen teenage cancer patients currently receiving or having completed treatment at a center in Lebanon have been celebrating passing baccalaureate exams.
Their achievements were marked by the Children’s Cancer Center of Lebanon at the American University of Beirut Medical Center during its 10th Path of Joy event.
The annual occasion highlights the accomplishments of children and young people with cancer and this year some of them danced, sang, or portrayed their treatment journey through paintings displayed in an exhibition.
Dr. Hassan El-Solh, the center’s medical director, described the patients as, “heroes with unparalleled strength and courage in the face of adversity.”
He said: “Their stories are not just tales of survival but rather narratives of victory, inspiration, and hope.
“Their journey doesn’t end here; it’s a journey filled with potential and opportunities.”
El-Solh noted that although the number of children with cancer had increased by between 30 percent and 40 percent this year, the center had not turned away any of them despite challenging financial and social conditions.
Joseph Asseily, chairperson of the CCCL, said: “The role of education during this challenging phase in the lives of these young patients inspires them to pursue their dreams despite the pain.
“The graduation of a new group of heroes who managed to excel in their official exams, despite the difficulties and challenges they faced during their courageous battle with cancer, is an achievement made possible through the combined efforts of specialized doctors and dedicated employees and volunteers.
“They work day and night to provide comprehensive care, as well as psychological, social, and educational support to over 50 percent of children with cancer in Lebanon, without discrimination, and at no cost to parents.
“This is accomplished with an annual budget of $15 million, despite the ongoing economic crisis,” he added.
Since being founded more than 21 years ago, the CCCL has been offering medical care and psychological support to patients and their families.
Asseily said: “In 2016, the center launched a wellness program with private funding. It has contributed to offering activities such as drawing, yoga, music, and acting to sick children, as well as providing vital psychological and social support to patients and their families throughout their lengthy treatment journey, especially in terms of academic education.”
The CCCL was established with the mission of providing free treatment and support to all children and young people with cancer in Lebanon, working closely with the AUBMC and receiving support from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the US.
The center turned to civil initiatives to ensure the treatment of sick children and the availability of necessary medications, especially considering the economic crisis in Lebanon.
The center has treated more than 3,000 children and carried out at least 6,000 diagnostic tests and examinations.
However, it has been struggling due to a shortage in Lebanon of cancer medicines and delays in procuring drugs. The supply problems are particularly critical for children with leukemia.
The Lebanese government’s decision to lift subsidies on medicines, especially those for incurable diseases, has resulted in a lack of essential medications for cancer patients, leading to deteriorating conditions and even deaths.
Some families have resorted to purchasing medicines from Turkiye and Syria through online platforms or smuggling operations.
Joe Salloum, president of the Lebanese Order of Pharmacists, warned about the potential dangers of drugs obtained from other countries or brought into Lebanon illegally due to uncertainties about their source and composition.
In a 2021 report, the World Health Organization said: “The most common types of childhood cancers include leukemias, brain cancers, lymphomas, and solid tumors such as neuroblastoma and Wilms tumors.
“In high-income countries, more than 80 percent of children with cancer are cured. In low- and middle-income countries, less than 30 percent are cured.”
According to the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lebanon recorded around 17,300 new cancer cases in 2018. The number of cancer patients reached 41,843 people — 22,250 women and 19,593 men — over the following five years.
Out of every 100,000 Lebanese citizens, 242 people are battling cancer, making it the highest percentage among West Asian countries, the report added.
Lebanon ranked first in the rate of cancer cases and third for cancer-related deaths relative to its population, with the disease claiming the lives of more than 119 people per 100,000.