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Child Life Month: Celebrating the Angels that Save Our Sanity Every Day

Alethea Mshar
Special needs mom and Blogger
03/13/18  8:38 AM PST
child life month

I don’t remember how far my son was into his three and a half years of cancer treatment, but it was far enough that we knew the ropes and felt like we were on top of things, but still new enough not to realize it was more bravado than confidence. I was pretty sure my van could drive itself to the outpatient clinic, and was on mental cruise control one day when the gate to the parking lot wasn’t working.

We sat in the van, blocked in ahead and baking in the hot summer sun, powerless to do a darn thing. I suspect that Ben’s body knew what was coming, the nauseating chemo, because he barfed right there in his car seat awaiting entrance into the lot.

Just for the record, Ben could be a competitive barfer. He has Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome, Functional Vomiting and was getting chemotherapy. When he barfed it was epic, perhaps record setting. It made the famous scene from The Exorcist look tame.

I swabbed him down with the towel in the barf kit that I kept with me everywhere, and held it together while I approached the first car in line and asked him what the situation was.

And he ripped me a new one.

I returned to the van and called the clinic and told them we were running late and why, and that we’d be up as soon as we got parked. Then I hung up the phone and fell apart. Completely. Utterly. Every moment in my baby’s cancer treatment that I had been pragmatic and tough and let the emotions build up came right back at me and I ugly, snotty-cried right there.

Just then the gate opened and we rolled into the lot and parked. I got out, grabbed spare clothing for Ben and picked him up to head up to clinic.

And an angel met me in the elevator.

Her name is Jen and I knew her well. She ushered us up to a private room, changed Ben and called for spare clothes for me because I was soaked in vomit almost as badly as my child was.

She kept an eye on him and gave me all the time I needed to get myself together, which wasn’t a quick fix. Once I returned to the room she just acted natural, like it was just a normal day at work, chatted with us for a few minutes, then left the room when the nurse arrived.

Next thing I knew Jen returned with a distraction bag full of goodies and a beautiful handmade blanket for Ben, and some snacks. She kept an eye on us all day, making sure I wasn’t just pretending to have my act together (I was, and I’m sure she knew it, but to her credit she played it cool).

child life month

Sure, Jen is an angel, but her disguise is her day job, a Child Life Specialist. Jen worked at the hematology/oncology clinic where my son was treated, and her job description has to be one part Wonder Woman, one part Mary Poppins, and one part angel, and she switches between those parts seamlessly on any and every given day at work.

Jen saved the day not only that day, buy also at every clinic visit from my son’s first appointment to last chemo. Like that time when we were the first to arrive at the clinic in the morning and were still there after everyone else left and Jen stuck around and even let Ben play with her hair, which was really something because he had Cheeto hands. Yeah, that’s how awesome Jen is.

Child Life Specialists like Jen help children and their families cope with the difficulty of hospitalizations and medical treatments, and they can be found in hospitals and medical centers where children are treated all over the United States. They are everyday heroes that swoop in and save the day for families like mine all day every day. March is Child Life Month, a time to acknowledge the valuable contribution these individuals make to sick children and their families, they couldn’t deserve it more!

inclusion on the playground

Alethea Mshar is a Special Needs Mom and Blogger.

Read her blog, Ben’s Writing, Running Mom

Follow her on Facebook


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