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Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: Reflections from a Pediatric Hospice Nurse

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month—a time to recognize and honor the children who are battling cancer, the children who are survivors of cancer, and the children who lost their lives to cancer.

As a Gilchrist Kids pediatric hospice nurse, I have the honor of caring for these brave kids and their loving families every day. People often say to me, “I don’t know how you do this job.” To me, this is more than a job. It is an honor and a privilege to walk alongside these children and their families, supporting them in every step of their journey.

Caring for Kids and Families Throughout Their Journey

Unlike adults, children can receive curative, life-prolonging treatment for their cancer diagnosis while also receiving hospice care. I often explain to families, “We make your circle bigger,” meaning Gilchrist is an added support to help them wherever they are in their journey. Whether a child has just received a diagnosis, is currently receiving treatment, or has exhausted all treatment options and the family wants to spend their remaining time together at home, we will be there.

The Gilchrist Kids program was established in 2010 and was the first hospice in Central Maryland to offer pediatric hospice care. The Gilchrist Kids team consists of specially trained medical staff who are experts in the field. Our interdisciplinary team prides itself on making each child’s comfort and care a priority while providing families with emotional and spiritual support along the way.

A unique part of being a pediatric hospice nurse at Gilchrist is being with a family throughout the child’s illness. From day one, and every day after, I am on their team. This continuity allows a special bond to form—one of trust, gentleness and creating a safe space for all feelings.

I want each child to know that I am here for them, to celebrate in good times, to hold their hand when they are feeling nervous, to sing and dance to distract them from pain, and to be by their side when they are sad or scared.

Strength and Courage

There’s a recurring theme I notice when caring for children with cancer, and that is strength. I am constantly blown away by the strength these children possess, often trading typical childhood activities for countless doctors’ appointments, hospitalizations, tests, scans, therapies and side effects of cancer treatment. The strength their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and friends have as they watch their loved one battle cancer. The strength it takes to decide whether to continue medical treatment or stop treatment and take on a more comfort-based approach. Your strength does not go unnoticed.

Today, and every day, I am reminded of all the courageous kids I’ve had the honor of caring for at Gilchrist. My hope is that with ongoing research and awareness, we will continue to learn and understand more about every type of childhood cancer.

To learn more about the Gilchrist Kids pediatric hospice program, visit gilchristkids.org/gilchrist-kids.

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