Having a friendly shoulder to lean on for support can make you feel comfortable and safe, especially when you are only four years old and fighting a blood cancer.
Evan, who travels more than 100 kms weekly to McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH) for his chemotherapy, starts every journey with a simple question to his mom Maggie, “Is Nate going to be there today?”
Nate is a Child Life Specialist with Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS). Over several months, Evan and Nate have developed a special bond. Nate’s shoulder has come to represent a symbol of strength and compassion for Evan, his family and his community – everything that’s required to care for even the bravest of patients. Maggie calls Nate, and the oncology team, a “beacon of light and hope” that has helped their family move from intense moments to stable and more normal times.
It’s Nate’s mission to help Evan and his family cope with the fear and anxiety of treatment and to understand what comes with his care. That’s why in a busy room of colourful artwork and toys, you will find Nate teaching Evan about his treatment by conducting “medical play.”
With a doll, Nate explains each step of treatment to Evan and his family, and involves Evan in his own care by using real medical equipment to paint a picture of treatment, lessen anxiety and pain, and create a reassuring and confident environment.
Maggie has high praise for the “team” treating Evan for the past year-and-a-half. “The care here is a gift – it is so thoughtful, so seamless,” she says. “It makes you feel 100 times better as a family knowing that all the leading resources are here if you need them.”
For Evan, who understands he is a “special kind of sick,” his friendship with Nate evolved when he began his weekly clinic visits after an initial two-month hospital stay. At the cancer clinic, Nate became a “source of comfort at a time when there were a lot of unknowns and our anxiety as a family was high,” says Maggie.
For Child Life Specialists, a large part of helping patients and their families adapt to cancer care is through education. Nate works with parents coaching them in how to talk about cancer, learn about the disease, develop routines for the family and manage their own anxiety so that it doesn’t impact their child.
Now, with six months of treatment left for Evan, Maggie can’t say enough about the quality of care the staff at HHS provides. “They are not just treating a patient, it’s a whole family and a community that are invested in the future of your little one,” she says. “Child Life Specialists like Nate have a gift – it’s different from doctors and nurses – but equally as important to the success of a family.”
Visit our Strategy in Action page for related stories.