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Childhood Champions

Posted By Victoria Brodersen, Tuesday, December 10, 2013

As a second year Master’s student working toward a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy I am required to complete a year-long internship. In an attempt to become the best therapist I could be I decided to challenge myself. I wanted an internship that would confront everything I thought I knew and inspire me not to give up. Last May I began that internship experience with a Pediatric Hematology/Oncology out-patient clinic in Greenville, NC and so far I have not regretted a second of it. Serving children from birth through college, the Pediatric or "Peds” Clinic is a daily roller coaster of emotions. Families come in and deal with the harsh reality of having a sick child. 

Some come in with multiple sick children while others have one that is terminal. An unfortunate few come in after the parents themselves have beaten cancer just to go home and watch their young child wage the same war with this overwhelming disease. As a staff member you never have a ‘good day’. We have calm days with sparse appointments and no bad news. We celebrate those days. They are the little victories that keep us going but we know they will not last. When you work with hundreds of children, fighting various forms of cancer and blood disorders, you are bound to have days of defeat. There are days when patients are told they have relapsed, their cancer has spread, or they are not responding to the chemotherapy. There are days when children who have been healthy and in remission for years suddenly turn sick and die of unrelated cause. On that same day there can be children fulfilling their Make A Wish requests.
The "Peds" Clinic is a daily roller coaster of emotions

These families have friends that can be counted in the hundreds: nurses that grow attached, front desk staff with welcoming faces, teachers that bring school assignments to their house, and neighbors that offer to drive, cook, and babysit. They also have far more pain than should be allowed. Despite the difficulties these families have, there is overwhelming perseverance and optimism delivered to their door weekly in the form of children that remain playful and strong. If Mount Everest were measured in blood draws and unexpected hospital admissions, the "Peds” Clinic families would all boast having climbed it.

To say that a blood or cancer diagnosis is the worst thing to happen to these families does not give them the credit that is due. Sure for some the news in unbearable, coping is a struggle, and there seems to be no getting back to the way life used to be. But there are families that eventually see the diagnosis as the thing that made them stronger than before, brought them closer together than ever, and re-established their values in a time of fear. To the mother that has seen her teenage daughter with cancer have a stroke and then spend the summer on life support there is nothing more precious than the day that girl acts like a brat. The worst thing to happen would have been to lose that child. Never seeing your daughter healthy enough to have some attitude, some semblance of the child she used to be, would be a devastating blow to these mothers. Not even the best oncologist can predict which families will suffer that fate. 

Because each day together can be like winning the lottery I have seen families at the "Peds” Clinic take very little for granted. They run relays for life and make their wish. They take work leave and accept Ronald McDonald beds. They set up Facebook pages to support their child and share their story. They knit hats for bald heads and take vacations often. Not a moment lost nor a minute is forgotten.

What I have learned over the last seven months in the "Peds” Clinic is that children know no defeat. They have an innate ability to push on so long as there is an opportunity to play. Having a child with this sort of life changing diagnosis transforms every parent into a superhero. You will never see anyone fight so hard, for something so small, as a parent with a chronically ill child.

I am a graduate student getting my Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at East Carolina University. Originally from Nebraska, I received my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Iowa State University and then moved to Greenville, NC to complete my education. After recently becoming engaged and beginning to think about the possibility of having children, I began to see my internship with the Pediatric Clinic in a new light. The impatience of parents sitting in the waiting room became lost on me. More and more I noticed the day-to-day pain of parents that were helpless to improve their child’s circumstances and desperate for any assistance they could get. My biggest fear as a one-day mother is that I might fail my children. My biggest concern is that I might not prove to be a fighter that comes out better because of a challenge like this.

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