Childhood Cancer

The surgical technique used to remove your child’s tumor depends on several factors, including the type and location of the tumor, your child’s general medical condition, and the type of procedure needed. However, some principles apply to all operations requiring a general anesthetic. Children are usually given anesthesia through a breathing mask, an intravenous injection, or both. A breathing tube is placed in the trachea (windpipe) and connected to a ventilator that will breathe for the child every few seconds. Your child will be anesthetized before the breathing tube is inserted.

During the operation, your child will be connected to many different monitors to ensure there is an adequate supply of oxygen in the blood and that fluids are maintained at proper levels. Blood pressure, heart rate, and other functions are carefully monitored. Your child may also be connected to special monitoring to watch electrical impulses controlling movement of the face, arms, and legs. Brain wave monitoring is sometimes used to detect the presence of seizure activity.

The surgery was handled very well. Paige was treated with kindness and prepared, so she wasn’t too scared. We were informed of her progress while surgery was taking place, and the surgeon explained the outcome as soon as he could.

Once the child awakens from the anesthesia, clear liquids are given first and solid foods are offered after the neurosurgeon feels it is safe. Some children are not able to drink and/or eat for several days, depending on the surgery. These children are given nutrition through an intravenous line or through an NG tube through the nose to the stomach.

Michelle had a number of major surgeries and more minor ones than I remember. She hated waking up to a liquid diet of Popsicles®, Jell-O®, and juice. One day she pleaded with the doctor to have something else. The doctor replied, “If you can think of anything else that’s clear, you can have it.” Michelle thought and thought, and she finally came up with jelly, no seeds. So on her next liquid diet tray were little packets of clear grape jelly.

Most children who have brain surgeries do not experience serious complications. Many children are awake and hungry by the evening of surgery and are out of bed and walking the next day. The risk of complications in children is usually lower than in adults, because children recover from postoperative symptoms and weakness at a much faster rate than adults.

My son was anxious to start moving about a few hours after he had his surgery to remove his tumor. He really amazed me. His mobility was limited for a few days, but he didn’t let the operation stop him from trying to do most activities.

A small number of children with brain or spinal cord tumors experience significant complications from the surgery. These are discussed in the next section.