Photo credit: Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Many cancer patients suffer in silence, with the public being largely unaware of the different types of cancer and how they affect patients. Most people obviously know that cancer is well, a bad thing, but there is a lot of nuance and important information that is lost on the common citizen. Most people couldn't tell the difference between leukemia and lymphoma, much less warning signs they need to look out for or how to help those affected. That is why public service announcements (commonly known as PSAs) are crucial in getting the necessary information out there.
What Would You Do?
John Quinones has worked on the ABC News Channel for 40 years reporting on world events and the weekly news. In 2008 he switched roles from a full-time anchor to television host, serving as the host for What Would You Do? What Would You Do is a program designed to see how the public would react to different situations. Featured actors play out scenes of conflict, emergency, or illegal activity in a public place. Hidden cameras then catch how bystanders react to the different situations. Multiple variations of each situation occur, and actors of different genders, races, and general appearance are used in each case. Quinones comes in after the situation has played out and interviews the bystanders to the event to see what their reaction was and why they reacted how they did. He then consults psychologists and scholars to gain insight into the different reactions.
Now there is no specific episode of What Would You Do based on blood cancers. However, the show enjoyed high ratings, making Quinones a household name. That would hopefully mean the PSA catches more people's attention and makes the message more widespread.
The cancer PSA
The PSA, funded by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) titled "I Live" features Quinones and a group of children and one adult that are all blood cancer survivors:
- Bella Mazuca, diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) at 2 years old
- Claire Montwille, diagnosed with ALL at 2 ½ year old
- Aidan Love, diagnosed with acute T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma in 2014
- Victoria Young, diagnosed with ALL one day before her sixth birthday
- Aida Cordeau, diagnosed with ALL when she was in kindergarten (Aida’s twin sister Kalli says “She Lives”)
- Amanda Ramirez, diagnosed in early 2016 with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL)
The segment begins with a clip of each of the children of Cordeau. After each is introduced they say that they are alive due to the research being funded by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The overall theme of each PSA drives home the need for better research, and urges the audience to make a donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to help fund and prop up better research in the blood cancer world. Boom TV is the company responsible for distributing the PSA through different channels. Louis DeGennaro Ph.D., president and CEO of LLS, says that he contacted Quinones because What Would You Do is all about doing the right thing, and this exemplifies what LLS stands for. DeGennaro says that Quinones was especially enthusiastic about raising awareness for blood cancer patients and their families.
Quinones generously donated his time to shoot the commercial, and even teamed up with LLS to put on other events toward the cause. He emceed a San Antonio chapter "Models of Courage" fashion show fundraiser where all the models are blood cancer survivors and participated in a "Dinner with John" fundraiser.
Warning signs of blood cancers
Research is extremely important for blood cancer patients. However, it is also very important to know and understand the warning signs of different blood cancers. Cancer only gets worse if left unchecked, so knowing when to see the doctor could save your life. We should mention here that some of these symptoms can be similar to other less threatening diseases, and not all of these symptoms will be felt by each patient. With that being said, here are some signs that you need to see a doctor as soon as possible:
Weakness and fatigue - Blood cancers, specifically leukemia, cause an abnormal production of white blood cells that crowd out the bone marrow and lessen the effectiveness of the white blood cells. This in turn usually leads to significant weakness in the bones and an almost constant fatigue. This is a fairly common symptom in many other diseases though, so don't be too worried if you experience some minor weakness or fatigue.
Unexplained fevers and infections - Less effective white blood cells can lead to fewer toxins and pathogens being cleaned out from your bloodstream. This in turn leads to patients developing multiple infections over a short period of time. Usually if the doctor cannot discern why you are getting so many infections they might start testing for blood cancer. Just getting one infection is typically not enough for great worry, but multiple different infections back to back indicate that you should see a doctor right away.
Abnormal bruising and excessive bleeding - Blood cancers will often cause excessive bleeding in certain areas. Patients often complain of regular nosebleeds and bleeding gums. The blood could also cause bruising to occur out of nowhere. These bruises will look like red spots underneath the skin. These are both more serious symptoms and merit a doctor's visit as soon as possible.
Bone and joint pain - The changes that blood cancer causes to the bone marrow often lead to substantial bone pain. This typically occurs in the pelvis or sternum where the bone marrow gets crowded out. This is a slightly more common symptom and could be caused due to a number of different factors, but if felt in addition to any of the symptoms it might be cause for concern.
Abdominal swelling and discomfort - Abnormal white blood cells can sometimes collect in the liver and spleen. This can cause your abdomen to swell which could lead to great discomfort. It could also lead to substantial loss of appetite or feeling full earlier than normal.
Headaches and other neurological problems - In some cases, leukemia cells will invade the fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord (also known as cerebrospinal fluid). This can lead to some neurological problems. The most common one is having migraines and other major headaches. Other symptoms might include things like seizures, frequent dizziness, vision problems or changes, and nausea or vomiting.
Raising awareness for blood cancer is a crucial step in increasing the public's understanding of the condition. When people gain a better understanding of leukemia, they will be more willing to help through either donating, fundraising, or providing support to patients. It could also give people an idea of what type of warning signs to look out for in themselves and loved ones. The LLS society and others like it believe that raising awareness will give them enough finances to fund groundbreaking research that could lead to new treatments (and maybe even a cure!). We can only hope that these efforts lead to positive changes in the lives of blood cancer patients in the future. For more information on the different types of blood cancers, their treatments, symptoms, and management tips, be sure to visit the rest of our website.