The first symptoms Arnau experienced manifested in May, after the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic lockdown period. One day, after playing football, as he usually does, he felt intense stabbing pains in his side. At the start, they attributed the pain to doing sports, but after some initial tests, the doctors at his reference hospital quickly referred him to the Pediatric Oncology Department of SJD Barcelona Children's Hospital.
The tests showed that Arnau had Ewing's sarcoma, a tumour that would require chemotherapy at an early stage, an operation to remove the tumour and, most likely, radiation therapy. After the diagnosis, Arnau, 16 years old and still receiving treatment today, was able to muster the strength to undergo a series of quite intense chemotherapy cycles. "The first time it hurt a lot. I couldn't stretch out in bed or rest because it was so intense," he explains.
The effect was almost immediate, the next day I was able to stretch for 30 minutes and I started to relax more and more
It was then that Esther Martinez, the pediatrician responsible for the Integrative Pediatric Oncology Unit (IPOU), had her first visit with the patient to conduct a case assessment and also an initial acupuncture session to alleviate the pain. "The effect was almost immediate," explains Arnau, "the next day I was able to stretch for 30 minutes and I started to relax more and more".
Arnau was also quick to notice the usual nausea that chemotherapy causes in patients, especially with the smell of food. Dr Martinez recommended inhaling some essential oils to minimize the discomfort, which, according to the patient, worked immediately. "I was getting the little bottle of essential oil out to relieve my nausea. Now I don't let it out of my sight; sometimes it's a lifesaver".
Therapeutic support and information
Arnau explains that the Integrative Pediatric Oncology Unit is not only useful for minimising the side effects of the treatment, but for also the support it offers, and having someone to listen to you. "When Esther comes, I tell her how I'm doing and what hurts. She explains why each thing is happening to me and what might happen after. She also tells me what the treatment involves and why it does what it does," he explains
We also use acupuncture and essential oils specifically for pediatric patients and we personalise each case.
"Arnau has a very in-depth knowledge of his body and knows how to express what is happening to him very clearly. He's also very curious and always wants me to explain the reason for each step," explains Esther Martinez, who assures that most patients, including young children, usually react very positively to the treatment. "Some people are surprised at their resilience. They are receptive patients, who generally tolerate treatment very well and aren't afraid of needles. We also use acupuncture and essential oils specifically for pediatric patients and we personalise each case".
After the procedure to remove the tumour, Arnau had a tough few days. The doctor closely monitored his progress and, in a few days, the improvement was greater than expected. Before the boy returned home to recover until the next visit, Dr Martinez treated post-operative pain and digestive problems secondary to the conventional treatment, including the arm where the IV had been placed and the painful surgical site itself, with acupuncture.
"At first, what worried me most was the pain," says Arnau, full of energy, "now all I think about is being able to ride my motorbike around my hometown, in Bagà. Riding my motorbike makes me feel alive, and I'm sure it won't be long until I can do it. Esther is really helping me with everything. As well as giving you drugs and chemotherapy, I think they should offer these treatments to all children and adolescents who have to have surgery or need chemotherapy," concludes Arnau.
The Integrative Pediatric Oncology Unit would not be possible without the private donations that finance it, among which those of Xocolotada Solidària, Veritas and Grup Planeta stand out.