A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Child Life specialists supports kids and families fighting childhood cancer

Editor’s Note: This article was written by McKenzie Tischauser,  a Child Life specialist at Marshfield Children’s Hospital, a service of Marshfield Clinic Health System and a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. The post concludes with ways to support efforts to help children and families coping with childhood cancer.

As a child life specialist, I’m used to hearing the question “What do you do?” or “What is Child Life?” I usually give a simple answer: “I make the hospital fun and promote positive coping,” or “I translate medical jargon into words kids can understand.” Though these are accurate ways to explain my role in the hospital, my job is much more than most people see.

Image of child life specialist

Child Life Specialists are here for you and your child to prepare your child for their treatment or illness to reduce fear, anxiety and pain.

The complex answer is I help navigate conversations with parents as they tell their child that they have cancer. I make blood soup with children so they can understand “sick blood” blasts and what chemotherapy does to their cells. This empowers them to teach it to their classmates. I sit with a teen girl and talk about hair loss and wig options while prom is just a few weekends away. I have a conversation with a teen boy about what he wants his legacy to be if he does not come out of this fight a survivor. I turn a hospital playroom into SeaWorld because a two-year old’s trip was cancelled because she relapsed and is in the hospital.

Fight with cancer is daily with many emotional moments

I educate siblings about cancer, and why their brother will not be coming home for a few months, if at all. I sit with grieving parents after they receive the news that there are no further treatment options for their child. I create hand molds with a dying patient so that their family has a piece of them long after they pass. I explain death to siblings, so that they can understand why their brother or sister is never coming home. I provide comfort to families after their child takes their last breath.

The truth is my job is not always laughter, fun and play. My job includes a lot of hard conversations, sad moments and emotional days. However, I also get the pleasure of working with remarkable, strong and resilient children who leave a lasting impact on all the lives they touch.

The kids I work with fight daily and fight hard. They deal with medicines and treatment that are extremely hard on the body and have numerous side effects including ones that could affect them years after their treatment ends. Kids with cancer deal with headaches, nausea, tiredness and weakness. The list goes on and still somehow they find energy to play, laugh and smile. These kids and their families face a prognosis that most of us cannot even fathom. They are true heroes, and I cannot express the gratitude I feel every day that I get to be a part of their lives and their fight. These children are my role models.

Help children and families cope with the impacts of cancer

In my role as a Child Life specialist, I help children and families make memories even while in the hospital. But I would rather see them making memories at home or with friends. Everyone is touched by cancer. And it takes a community to support children and families who are going through this difficult fight.

Central Wisconsin organizations that support children with cancer and their families include:

  • The Children’s Miracle Network-Marshfield or your nearest CMN chapter, helps serve patients and their families ranging from paying for expensive medications, providing gas cards for families who must travel far and often for treatment and providing Child Life Services.
  • The Ronald McDonald House provides housing free of cost for families with a child in the hospital.
  • The Make-A-Wish Foundation provides wishes to children with a life-threatening illness.
  • Mighty Maddy’s Mission provides prizes, birthday boxes, end of treatment boxes and family baskets for children and families affected by cancer.
  • Donate blood. Chemotherapy affects healthy cells as well as cancer cells, so patients undergoing chemotherapy frequently need blood and platelet transfusions. Because of nationwide blood and platelet product shortages, some of my patients have to wait for hours for blood products to become available.

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