Erin and Jon felt time stop when their daughter, Molly, then six, was diagnosed with cancer in spring 2021. Doctors found cancerous tumors on her kidneys that had metastasized to her lungs and heart. The family needed the expertise of pediatric surgeons and oncologists, as well as wrap-around support services to help them cope. They found it all at Lurie Children’s.
While doctors began an aggressive treatment plan tailored to Molly’s specific needs, Lurie Children’s oncology Child Life Specialists, funded by the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation Child Life Endowed Fund, stepped in with tactics to explain the condition in terms Molly could understand, manage anxiety and normalize the hospital environment. Oncology Child Life Specialists are trained professionals who are skilled at providing developmentally appropriate support, preparation and therapeutic play opportunities for children with cancer and their families.
“When we first got to the hospital, Molly was in so much pain,” Erin said. “It was such a stressful time. Everything was new to her, and taking medicine was a constant fight. Enter Child Life, and everything got easier.”
While building a relationship with Molly and her parents, Child Life Specialist Elizabeth guided the family through important conversations about Molly’s treatment, which involved major surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. She explained clinical procedures in ways Molly could comprehend and reduced anxieties prior to surgery.
She also offered valuable support to help navigate difficult conversations during the course of Molly’s treatment, including chemo-induced hair loss, and offered coping strategies for Molly’s younger sister, Annie.
“Elizabeth has earned Molly’s trust, to the point where now Molly wants her by her side for everything,” Jon said. “This time has been difficult for us, but to have someone to lean on and to guide us has meant a lot.”
When it was time for Molly to return to in-person learning in the fall of 2021, Elizabeth helped Erin and Jon develop a PowerPoint presentation to deliver to Molly’s classmates, explaining her condition.
“At first, Molly was embarrassed to go back to school bald with an NG tube and a port,” Jon said. “When we went in to give this presentation to her classmates, she was very proud by the end.”
Outside of the hospital, the family feels bolstered by the support of connections with other families affected by cancer – relationships fostered at events hosted by the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation.
When Molly, now seven, finishes treatment this spring, Erin and Jon are confident the lessons in friendship, resilience and compassion will stay with their family for a lifetime.
About Lurie Children’s Child Life Specialists
Lurie Children’s has Child Life Specialists located at our main hospital and also at our outpatient satellite locations who are there to help your child understand their diagnosis or procedure in an age-appropriate way. They also help support siblings, guide families through bereavement and assist in legacy making. Lurie Children’s Child Life Specialists assess, support and advocate for each child’s physical and emotional needs. Learn more.