Thank You Child Life Specialists

by Jennifer AnandMarch 26, 2019View more posts from Jennifer Anand

March is National Child Life Specialist month. If you were treated in pediatrics, you know these specialists are angels in disguise. If you’re on the adult side, I’m sorry you missed out. I wanted to share with you a bit of my experiences, and some of the other awesome therapists I had while in the hospital. – Jennifer Anand

For those of you who don’t know what a child life specialist is, lemme tell you. They’re awesome.

Prior to cancer, I had no idea they existed! They are hospital staff, that support you in non-medical ways. They can explain medical procedures with cool props and books they may have. During my transplant, one child-life sat in my room and took care of my siblings. She read them a book that explained what was happening, got them snacks, and generally kept them out of the way of the medical team and let me parents be with me.

Child-life has organized a rolling library (Rainbows Babies and Children’s in Cleveland, OH), a mani/pedi cart filled with nail polish and nail stickers, and other volunteers with entertainment. One of my favorite child-life events was a Spring Fling party they organized around Easter. They talked to the cancer kids, and tried to incorporate all their requests. There was pizza, ice cream, and snow cones. They had games where they had the doctors find jelly beans in a plate of whipped cream, using only their mouths! They organized Easter baskets, and even a Skype call with Santa Claus! They’re there to support, entertain, and love on you, and they do an awesome job!

So a few things for those going through treatment…

Don’t be afraid to ask.

I knew my transplant would entail several weeks in the hospital. I love music, and play the violin and piano, and didn’t want to give it up! I asked the music therapist for ideas to keep me entertained, and she got me a keyboard, that could stay in my room for the duration of my stay! It was super cool to have it available to me, whenever I wanted to play. If you’re going to be in the hospital for any length of time, speak up and ask for things that can help make your experience a bit better.

If you’re on the adult side, don’t be afraid to ask for a child life specialist to visit you! They have the biggest hearts, and so often they will visit you if they can!

Jennifer and her Child Life Specialist Lisa

Share your fears.

When I relapsed, I didn’t eat or speak for almost two weeks. At my weekly visit, my nurse sent Lisa into my room. Lisa was a child life specialist I had never met before. I was a ravaged 18-year old with relapsed cancer. She didn’t know that I played violin and piano, or that I was very academically driven in high school, or that I was in college, or any of the things I thought defined me. She was the first person I remember meeting who hadn’t met me pre-chemo and treatment. Lisa met me at my lowest point.

I remember she just came into my room and talked about random things, as I wasn’t talking to her. Some Ativan and a long nap later, I was a bit better, and she was waiting when I woke up. Recently, we were speaking about that day, and she asked if I remembered what I said when I woke up. I didn’t. She said “You asked me, Why does God hate me?”.

She talked me down, and helped me realize that life would one day be OK again. Lisa has kept me company on many days.

She is someone I can share anything with, whether good or bad. She is a great cheerleader when I share the good stuff, and she is a fantastic listener when I need to vent. Child life are great people to open up to. They’re not quite psychologists, so they won’t have a textbook answer for you, and they’re not doctors, so they won’t give you the medical answer. Every child life I’ve met has had a huge heart, and got into the field because they want to help others. As a result, you can see their kindness and compassion shine through.  They’ll be there to hand you a tissue when you’re crying, offer solutions to dealing with bad doctors, and bring you a favorite snack or toy to cheer you up.

Be open to anything!

I wouldn’t describe myself as very artistic. I love doodling as much as the next person, but there ends my inner Picasso. The art therapist brought me an 18-year old duct-tape craft kit. It took me a hot minute to want to open the kit. I was a grown-up college student, I shouldn’t be playing with duct tape!

But just like cancer has no age limits, I found that duct tape didn’t either! After that first kit, I knew enough to experiment on my own. Michelle brought me every roll of duct tape she could find in the hospital, and my family and friends ended up with wallets, handbags, place mats and more! She ended up bringing me painting kits, other craft kits, and even a plaster of Paris statue kit, that I made a hand mold out of!

Don’t be shy about exploring things maybe you’d never have thought to do before- you may be surprised how much you enjoy it!

Having cancer can really suck. Dealing with doctors and nurses and chemo and radiation and pills and needles can really, really suck. Child life specialists, music and art therapists are part of the team that can help things suck a bit less. They can provide us support, and education, and distractions, and a shoulder to cry on that I think is every bit as important as medical treatments.