Ena was diagnosed with Wilms’ tumor, a cancer of the kidney in March 2019. Claire was 10 weeks pregnant. Claire and Rob spent endless days and nights by Ena’s bedside as she received scary and painful treatments and fought for her life.
By the time Ena was about to enter remission, she had a 10-month-old sister called Elsie. The treatment had been long and traumatic, but it was almost over, and the hospital was preparing a celebration and an end of chemo dance. That day was also the earliest opportunity to get Elsie tested for Wilms’ tumor.
Rob and Claire had been reassured to hear the chances of Elsie having the same cancer as her sister were very small, around 0.5%. Claire went to get the test results before Ena’s end of chemo celebration and her world came tumbling down around her.
In the cruellest twist of fate, baby Elsie was also diagnosed with Wilms’ tumour.
Ena was discharged from hospital that day and her little sister, Elsie was admitted to hospital to begin her cancer treatment the very next day in the same room.
Over many months in hospital, both Ena and Elsie received life changing support from a very special Child Life Therapist. These medical professionals help kids undergoing cancer treatment cope with painful treatments and the hospital environment. They introduce medical play techniques and coping skills proven to reduce children’s anxiety about the procedures they face. They remain by a child’s side, providing practical support to kids and families throughout their treatment.
Ena and Elsie’s Child Life Therapist was a lady called Ronnie. Claire says she can’t count the number of times, and the number of ways, Ronnie would calm her little girls and help prepare them for upcoming treatment.
“She helped Ena understand that syringes weren’t so scary by blowing bubbles through them. And the oxygen mask that she needed in the early weeks, she would rub strawberry flavoured lip balm on the inside, so it smelled nice. And she’d send us home with oxygen masks and had a little doctor’s kit that we could play with and help normalise treatment.”
Early in her treatment, Ena had a particular fear of the needles that would be inserted into her port-a-cath, through which she would receive her chemotherapy to shrink the tumours.
To ease her fears, Ronnie introduced Ena to a giant unicorn. Claire looked on in wonderment as Ronnie talked Ena through the treatment.
“She would talk so gently and so easily to Ena,” Claire recalls. “It was along the lines of: ‘So, this is my unicorn, and this is her port, and this is what the port does.’ She really helped to normalise it. Without Child Life Therapy the whole experience is just so much more traumatic.”
Ronnie also helped Ena prepare for her radiation treatment, during which she would be required to lie completely still. If she had been unable to do this, she would have needed to undergo general anaesthetic for radiation.
Claire says she can’t imagine having gone through Ena and Elsie’s treatment without Ronnie’s support.
“I think child life therapy is essential. Without it, the whole experience is so much more traumatic for the child.”
Thanks to Camp Quality’s supporters, we currently fund Child Life Therapists in children’s hospitals in Victoria and New South Wales. We desperately need to fund more of these remarkable therapists in children’s hospitals throughout Australia.
Children like Ena and Elsie who are facing cancer need all the support they can get.