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Support, education and “moments of joy” in the DanceBlue Hematology/Oncology Clinic

A child life specialist and a patient.
Blog

/ by UK HealthCare

March is Child Life Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of our Child Life Specialists and the care, instruction and fun that they bring to our patients and their families.

We recently chatted with Kristina Richetts, MSFS, CCLS; and Sydney Houzenga, BS, CCLS, about the specialized, dedicated care they provide to our pediatric cancer patients and their families in the DanceBlue Hematology/Oncology Clinic

What is the value of having dedicated child life specialists as part of the hematology/oncology team at KCH?

Kristina: First of off let me say that I LOVE being a hematology/oncology child life specialist. Having three dedicated child life specialists for this population allows us to provide continuity of care for these patients, whether they are in the hospital, in the clinic, getting scans in radiology, receiving radiation medicine or somewhere else in the healthcare system. 

Having dedicated child life specialists for this population also helps build long-term therapeutic relationships with patients and their families so that we can support them from the time of diagnosis throughout their treatment.

Sydney: I became a child life specialist to work specifically with the pediatric hem/onc population. Landing my dream job right has been such a blessing! 

Having a team of dedicated child life specialists is truly what makes us successful. Because we have a dedicated team of specialists, we are able to follow our hem/onc patients in each unit of the hospital ensuring they get quality care.  

How does child life services benefit the patients who are diagnosed and receiving treatment for cancer? 

Kristina: As child life specialists, we make the cancer experience less scary for children and their families. We provide education about a patient's diagnosis in a way that the child can understand and master. We teach children about their tests, scans and procedures so that they know what to expect when they come to the hospital for treatment. We coach children to use coping skills to help manage painful or unfamiliar experiences, so that they can complete port access and other procedures successfully. 

Most of all we play. We play to normalize the hospital and clinic environments. We play to help children process big feelings. We play to increase compliance with medications and procedures. We play to create moments of joy in a situation that is difficult for children and their families.

Sydney: We wear many hats each day. We play to normalize the hospital environment. We use various forms of distraction during procedures to reduce stress and anxiety. We prepare and support patients for procedures (port accesses, scans, IV’s, etc.) We provide emotional support for patients, parents and siblings. We educate children about the hospital and their diagnosis. 

At the root of all we do…we love. We do our job because we love serving the pediatric hem/onc patients and families of KCH. 

How does child life services support families and siblings?

Kristina: As child life specialists, we know that child's diagnosis affects the entire family, especially parents and siblings. We can educate and support siblings through a brother or sister's cancer diagnosis. We can provide diagnosis education so that siblings can understand their brother or sister's diagnosis on their developmental level. 

We can also help families find ways to include siblings in their brother or sister's care and to honor the sibling’s experience throughout the cancer diagnosis and treatment. 

In many situations, we often support parents just by being a listening ear and extra emotional support. We can help parents identify ways to support not only their child with cancer, but their other children at home, too. We can also help parents create lasting memories with their child throughout legacy building activities that honor the family's experience with cancer and treatment.

Sydney: Cancer doesn’t just affect the patient; cancer affects the whole family. As child life specialists, we are able to assess the needs of parents and siblings from a patient’s diagnosis and throughout treatment. We educate parents and siblings just like we educate patients. We provide active listening, emotional support, encouragement and play, too! 

What I the most fulfilling part of being a Child Life Specialist? 

Kristina: Being a child life specialist is so rewarding and fulfilling. My favorite thing about being a child life specialist is when I get to see a child transform from being scared and anxious about their medical experience to conquering those fears with the education and support that child life provides. 

I also love hearing a child laugh while we are playing, and then a parent says, "this is the first time they've laughed since being in the hospital." That is so special and rewarding. 

I'm so honored to be able to work with these patients and their families, and I hope they know that I learn from them every day, too.

Sydney: There are so many things about being a child life specialist that I love. I feel privileged to be a child life specialist within the pediatric hem/onc population because of the time we get to spend with our patients and families. 

Seeing a lot of them weekly – sometimes daily – allows us to build strong therapeutic relationships with not only the patients, but the entire family, and that is where I find the most joy! I love watching patients learn to not just cope, but thrive throughout treatment. 

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