Your children are among the greatest delights of my life. I can honestly say that to you from where I’m sitting, as a child life specialist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center. I watch these youngsters face their disease every day and bounce back with laughter, imagination, and amazing courage.
I’d like to share with you some of the special moments I’ve had with these incredible kids.
One Of My Funniest (And Best) Memories
Early in my career, I played often with a 9-year-old girl in the oncology clinic. One day, we were playing Barbies and she wanted to have a wedding. So, we started getting silly, planning a Barbie and Ken wedding in the playroom.
On the big day, the patient dressed as the bride herself, and I dressed up in a tuxedo to play the groom. Our clinic nurses, including nurse Anisa Hoie, brought in bridesmaids dresses and gowns of all kinds, and wore them over their scrubs. A social worker was the minister. We were all set.
We had a pretend ceremony for the dolls in the middle of the playroom. The little girl and I took vows for the “bride” and “groom.” We also made cupcakes and punch and pretended to have a reception. All of the staff and kids that day had a great time.
The little girl is well into her 20s now. Even though no child should have to get cancer, I hope when she looks back on that time, she remembers this happier moment. As for me, I think this helped the kids forget all about the chemo, the pokes, and the tubes that came from their ports for just a little while.
My Most Inspiring Memory
All of our patients inspire me in their own ways, and so do their families. When I first started going to Camp CoHoLo as a counselor, I felt honored that parents relied on me to make sure their children’s developmental and social needs were met.
But I think what I enjoyed the most was helping those kids challenge themselves. In one camp, a circus troupe came in from New York and trained the kids—and us as counselors—on how to be in the circus. We had a big top, and we practiced every day with the kids.
The activities were simple and safe. There might be a child walking on a low beam or low wire, just inches from the floor. If the child couldn’t walk, a circus performer might carry her across the beam.
The kids tried many new skills, and the counselors and circus group challenged them to do things that probably nobody thought they could do.
When we watched the circus on the last day, I had tears in my eyes. I was so proud of the kids for getting up and doing these new skills. I enjoyed helping them try something new and courageous, something that was going to be an accomplishment and a source of pride.
My Most Educational Moment
Part of my job is facilitating school re-entry visits for our oncology patients. This can be early at diagnosis or when a child is about to return to school after a portion of treatment. I have the opportunity to go to a patient’s school and talk about her diagnosis with their classmates, friends, and school staff.
This might involve a presentation in front of the entire class. Or it might mean a private meeting in the counselor’s office with a few of the child’s friends, especially for an older patient.
Each visit is unique—just like our kids. I might have a child who wants to personally speak in front of the class and talk about what’s happening with them. I want the visit to be comfortable and meaningful for each family.
These classroom visits help me learn a little more about the child and their life outside the medical environment.
I learn about the distance the families are driving to come see us, which is sometimes several hours three times a week, or even every single day. It gives me a perspective on the gas money, car maintenance, weather, and everything they’ve been doing to make sure their child gets treatment. It’s pretty enlightening.
These visits build a connection between me and the family that’s really special. They appreciate that someone has come out to educate or advocate for their child. For me, I get a chance to see what the child’s life was like before he got sick. It opens my eyes to their world—and it’s a real privilege.
If you think it might help for your child’s friends and teachers to learn a bit about her condition, just contact your hospital’s child life specialist. We would be happy to do a school re-entry visit or provide an outline for a teacher to present if your school is out of our travel radius.