A diagnosis of cancer for a child can be devastating. Subsequent daily visits for treatments, such as radiation therapy, can cause stress for both the child and their family members. That is why we at Eastern Health strive to create an atmosphere that calms children and reassures their parents.
For many pediatric patients, by the time they arrive at Radiation Therapy they have gone through other treatments and have previous experience throughout the health care system.
“When these kids first come to see us, they are nervous and afraid because they don’t know what to expect from these big machines,” says Ashely Wedd, radiation therapist at Eastern Health. “We try to use the same group of therapists with our young patients so that the children can get to know them better and they will be more comfortable and relaxed during treatments.”
A radiation therapist takes the time to get to know the patient and their parents and gives them detailed information about the process so that everyone is at ease and are comfortable.
“Most children cope really well with radiation treatment. They don’t feel anything during treatment but being left alone in the room can be scary for them,” continues Ashley. “Fortunately, there are cameras and intercoms in the treatment room so we can still communicate with the child and carry on conversations in order to relax them and keep them calm.”
With funding from the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Care Foundation and Newfoundland Power, the Radiation Therapy Department of our Cancer Care team, provides a welcoming environment for children undergoing radiation treatment.
For younger patients a toy box is provided, through Newfoundland Power’s Power of Life Project, and is filled with toys specifically chosen for them based on their interests and age, from stuffed animals to toy cars and trucks to craft sets and more. After each treatment the child selects something from the toy box especially for them. Teenagers, whilst not having a toy box, are not forgotten and receive weekly gift cards on Friday.
Through the foundation, children undergoing radiation therapy for cancer may also receive tickets to Ice Caps hockey games or other events at Mile One Centre, as well as a gift to celebrate the end of their treatment. Additionally, appointments are scheduled to minimize impact on the child and their family, video game systems are available for the children to play with and they may wear video glasses so that they can watch their favourite movie during radiation sessions, depending on what part of the body is being treated.
Ashley says these treats can go a long way for the children receiving treatment. “The people at the foundation do an awesome job organizing the toy boxes, talking to the parents and getting to know the children.”
These treats and surprises not only lift the moods of pediatric patients, it also boasts the spirits of staff because they get witness the excitement and joy of the children outside of the clinical atmosphere of the radiation suite.
“Sometimes it really hits home that these children are so young and they have such a life ahead,” he adds. “But we have to remember we are working towards a goal and we are part of helping them get better.”
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. As the month comes to a close, we must continue to draw attention to the tragedy of childhood cancer and show those children and families affected by cancer that they are not alone.
According to the Childhood Cancer Canada Foundation, about 10,000 children in Canada are living with cancer and 1,500 cases are diagnosed each year. The organization states that childhood cancers have a 75 per cent cure rate, up from less than 10 per cent in the 1950’s.
We all must take action against childhood cancer. Staff, physicians and volunteers at Eastern Health continue to work each and every day to support these children and their families.
Through these initiatives for children receiving radiation treatment, along with a staff that have the skills and experience to treat and engage with children, teenagers and their families, we hope that we are helping put a positive side to what can be a difficult experience.
“The biggest thing for me is to see that these kids are happy as they go through and finish their treatment,” surmises Ashley. “At the end of the day, the best we can hope for is to see them get back home to their normal life.” ■
This story was written by Sheila Crawford, division manager of radiation therapy for pediatric oncology patients at the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre.