I always knew I wanted to work with children, I just wasn’t sure what avenue that would take. During one of my school breaks my sophomore year at Central Michigan University, I did what is called an alternative break. I joined a group volunteering at St. Jude Children’s Hospital. I fell in love with the Child Life profession while I was there.
I love my job. I first interned at Mott about five years ago and then joined the team as a Child Life Specialist. Today, I work with pediatric patients in our radiation oncology unit. Before I started here, there was not a Child Life Specialist on this unit and about 40 percent of the patients had to be sedated for their radiation treatment. Because most of the kids receive radiation multiple days in a row, sedating them so frequently was a concern. We’ve been able to reduce that to about 2 percent.
My role is to help reduce the anxiety for the child and his family. The radiation room can be scary at first, and the child needs to be alone in the room for treatment so it’s important to make him or her feel comfortable. We typically start by just helping the child understand what’s going to happen and the equipment that’s going to be involved.
For children receiving radiation to their head, they need to wear a mask that secures their head into place on the table. The mask ensures that we are radiating the exact spot rather than healthy tissue. I like to help them pretend that it’s their own personal Spiderman mask. Before their first treatment, we try on the mask and discuss the procedure. The more we discuss the process, the less scary it typically is for the child. Some kids even start calling radiation their “Spiderman medicine.”
Kids who receive radiation on other body parts often need to first make a personal “cradle” that keeps their body in the proper position during radiation. We video taped us making a cradle for a Barbie doll to show the kids the process. They then can touch and feel Barbie’s cradle. I like to tell the kids we are making a warm snow angel. They lie down in a bed of liquid that slowly warms up and rises to fit their body position (it’s kind of like foam house insulation). After about five minutes, the liquid has turned to foam and makes a perfect impression of the child’s body. We’ll use that cradle each time the child gets radiation.
I also sit with kids before their treatment begins while the radiation therapists are getting ready. During that time, we’ll talk, play or do arts and crafts. I had one teen patient last summer who was really sick from her chemo when she started radiation, and of course she was scared. Her name is Sheila, and it took a while for her to open up, but she did like arts and crafts, so we did things like painting or making jewelry while she waited for her radiation therapy. She enjoyed the interaction so much, that when it came time to do her high school senior project about a potential career, she chose to focus her project on Child Life Specialists.
I love my career. It can be emotionally taxing because we wear many hats during each day, but our Child Life team is a wonderful support network. We meet every morning to review schedules, disperse volunteers and talk. It’s a good opportunity to brief and support one another. Most importantly, I love my patients.
In her senior project, Sheila described perfectly what keeps us going: “They are wonderful people who have a way of making the sun shine on even your darkest day.”
Making the sun shine for these kids who are going through so much is such a gift, and that’s how I play a part in the fight to Block Out Cancer.
Take the next steps:
- Learn more about the Child Life Program at Mott.
- Read about Marianna, another child life specialist who works with kids fighting cancer at Mott.
- Discover how you can play a part in the fight to Block Out Cancer.
- Learn more about radiation therapy at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
Block Out Cancer is a rallying cry for people from all walks of life to come together to support the fight against children’s cancers. Everyone has a role to play. Learn more about how you can help Block Out Cancer.
University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” in 2014, and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine.