Bisma Gives a Thumbs Up
Bisma is a 10 year old boy who is one of 9 children in his family. His father is a builder and his mother, a peasant farmer. The main source of family income comes from the sale of crops that they grow. But, this income is only enough to provide for the family’s essential needs like food and clothing. The family is unable to pay for health care.
In 2014, when Bisma was 7 years old, he experienced pain and swelling in his jaw. His mother took him to a dentist who extracted a tooth. Unfortunately, things got worse following the extraction – meaning that the jaw swelling and pain returned. His mother then brought him to our hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor where he was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma. When his mother learned that he had cancer, she believed that he would die because those are the beliefs about cancer in the village where they live. She was reassured by the doctors at our hospital that the cancer was treatable and that the chemotherapy Bisma needed was available free of charge. She was encouraged by seeing other mothers with their children on the ward and agreed to stay for the duration of treatment. After the chemotherapy was started, his mother said that the pain Bisma had been experiencing was soon forgotten because he improved so quickly. He went into remission and stayed free of Burkitt lymphoma for 3 years.
During a follow up visit in 2017, Bisma presented with abdominal pain and distension. His tumor was growing so fast that by the time his biopsy results came back, he was bed ridden. He had several masses in his liver, spleen and both kidneys. Due to the extent of his disease, he had impaired kidney function before we were able to start treatment. We knew that he would be at high risk for complications related to not only his lymphoma, but also related to the treatment itself due to his poor kidney function. But, our only hope for curing Bisma was to start chemotherapy.
He was given the first cycle of chemotherapy under close observation and monitoring for tumor lysis syndrome which is more likely to occur with very extensive disease. He did develop this syndrome, but we managed to get him through the initial days of therapy. As we anticipated, he developed complications related to treatment. He suffered from extensive irritation and erosion of the lining of his mouth and esophagus such that he could not even swallow his saliva. He became very anemic and experienced bleeding. His infection-fighting white blood cells were so low that he developed infections which were life-threatening. Our medical team found his care challenging because he had more extreme side-effects than we had seen before. Every morning, we would first glance at his bed and whenever we found it empty, we thought he had died. We were not alone with our fears. His mother informed us that Bisma said to her, “Mummy, if I survive today, praise God. But if die, then that is it”.
But, Bisma was strong. He fought for his life, day by day. By the end of the first 4 weeks, he had completely recovered. He finished the rest of his treatment with minimal side effects and is now cancer free. He is active and likes music and dancing. He wants to become a policeman when he grows up, but sometimes, he is scared that his cancer will return.
His mother is so grateful that her child was able to receive treatment for free. Because the family could not afford the costs of treatment, she said that her son would be dead by now without donations made to this project. She said, “Right now, I don’t have anything to give you to show how much I appreciate everything, but I want to say thank you so much and may God bless you all”.
From the perspective of being the Lead Pediatrician responsible for his care, late relapse, such as what occurred with Bisma, is seen in only a few percent of patients. But, more importantly, I learned that it is never too late to treat Burkitt lymphoma no matter how extensive it may be because every child has a chance to live. Let us always give them that chance. Thank you to everyone who donates to this project which makes it possible for us to treat these children!