Anne Carrelli steps into the waiting area and spots three other women standing in the middle of the room talking and laughing in the midst of a group hug. They spot Carrelli and invite her in.
Within moments, the excited group decides to go into a side room to chat privately. Carrelli turns to a waiting reporter and says she’ll be back in a few minutes and apologizes for the delay.
Carrelli returns a short while later and again apologizes to the reporter and points out that she was meeting with the mother of a child with cancer. In Carrelli’s world as a pediatric oncology nurse with Island Health, connecting with the family means everything.
Victoria General Hospital operates the region’s only pediatric oncology daycare unit, which treats and counsels sick children in their cancer journey.
The team, which includes four nurses, a physician, social worker and child psychologist, is responsible for everything from physical checkups to chemotherapy, even palliative care. And while that seems clinical, it has one enduring quality: loving care.
“You see a family at their most vulnerable here,” Carrelli said in an interview. “There is nothing more terrifying to a family than the potential loss of their child.”
Almost all of the families that walk through the clinic doors at Vic General have been treated at B.C. Children’s Hospital first. It’s a way the health-care system can keep families closer to home and still provide quality care.
To Carrelli, the key to good oncology care is building trust and getting to know the families.
This allow the family – and more importantly the child – to feel comfortable in their surroundings. During cancer care families are inundated with medical information they need to know to help their child fight the cancer.
“We try to build that trust with the families so they trust themselves,” said Carrelli.
“They need to know there is more to looking at the numbers on a [medical] machine. They know their child and need to assess how their child is doing by looking and talking to them, too.”
Families have many fears when they come into care. They wonder whether the cancer treatment is going to work – and there is always an underlying fear on how they’re going to get through this with their child.
The medical team attempts to reassure families that pediatric cancer is curable, but is only as good as the science available.
“We believe in our treatments and we believe in our protocols,” Carrelli said. “If we get to a point where things don’t appear to be working, we look at other options.”
Carrelli has been a pediatric nurse for more than 20 years, the last eight in pediatric oncology. She wouldn’t trade her job for anything, she said.
Still, there are many hardships in the job. Like the kids that don’t make it.
“I might not be able change the end result, but I really have to make a difference on their way there. For me, that’s treating every family the way I would want my family to be treated,” Carrelli said.
Children fighting cancer often are more optimistic than their parents or sometimes even the health team treating them.
Most parents say kids who are fighting cancer just want to be kids. Oftentimes you can see children working hard to please their parents and do what’s expected of them.
Children, especially the younger ones, seldom talk about the cancer, Carrelli said, but some do have fears about some painful procedures.
“When kids get very sick we are sometimes protective of them and we and the families don’t tell them how much sicker they are, but the children seem to know without being told.”
Still, Carrelli stresses it’s always important for the team to do a better job and make the cancer journey as easy as possible for both her young patients and their families.
“Our families are why we are here,”
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