Have you ever completed a very difficult puzzle?
Perhaps it was thousands of small pieces with colors that blend together, so that most of the pieces appeared very similar. Do you remember the overwhelmed feeling you had when you first dumped the pieces onto the table? “Good grief”, you may have thought, “this puzzle is impossible.” But, after the moment of defeat, you look at the picture on the box and see what the puzzle could be. Perhaps it will be an amazing waterfall, or city illuminated at night, or a basket full of kittens, and you know that at the end of all your hard work the pieces will come together, and the picture will be complete. So, thinking of that future day when you will feel the satisfying snap of the last piece falling into place, you sit down and get to work.
For many people, global pediatric oncology (GPO) is like a giant, overwhelming puzzle. The complexity of the problem and the way the pieces are scattered may leave one feeling lost how to begin. However, despite its difficulty, a community of dedicated doctors, nurses, cancer survivors, parents, politicians, and many others has been working to solve it. Over the last three decades, this community has made considerable progress toward understanding the necessary conditions for successful childhood cancer treatment anywhere in the world. Now, new research has completely changed the perception of childhood cancer as a global health concern.
As a result of this new information, the shape of the puzzle is changing. Whereas before, many pieces had been put together, but there was no structure that unified the whole, now most of the edge pieces are in place, and the outline of the puzzle can be seen in its entirety. The edges have given the puzzle a definite structure, which helps the global oncology community understand both how the different completed parts sit in relation to each other and what important information is still missing.
In a series of essays, I want to present to you a broad understanding of what I’m calling the edges of the GPO puzzle: those essential concepts without which one cannot fully understand pediatric oncology as a global health concern. Concretely, we will review the emerging research that clarifies the magnitude of the problem of childhood cancer, demonstrates effective solutions exist that can save lives today, quantifies the costs associated with treatment, and charts a clear path forward. To discuss the first edge, we will directly address the question, “what is the global burden of pediatric cancer?”
Read the first visual essay: The Global Puzzle – Edge #1