Have you ever wondered how to provide high-quality psychosocial care for pediatric oncology patients? Nurses and health care professionals generally focus on a patient’s medical needs, but when caring for pediatric oncology patients, awareness of patients’ emotional needs is also important. In this article, I highlight some of the key points to keep in mind when working with this patient population.
COMMUNICATING WITH PEDIATRIC PATIENTS
Research suggests that children often understand more than adults believe they do. Therefore, protecting children by withholding information about their diagnosis only leaves them to face their fears alone.1 Open communication engenders the child’s feelings of security and trust in the medical team. It allows children to ask questions about their illness and treatment, instead of feeling that their diagnosis is a taboo topic.
Use straightforward and age-appropriate language when speaking with pediatric patients. Referring to the child’s cancer diagnosis by name allows the child to build trust in the medical team. Although some people are hesitant to use the word cancer, children will likely learn about their diagnosis from overhearing a conversation or seeing the word at the hospital. The less information a child is given, the more likely their imagination will conjure up an inaccurate story.
Communicating with patients about their treatment plan helps prepare them for changes they may experience. Explain to pediatric patients that they need special medications to stop their cancer from growing. Let patients know that their treatment may have side effects such as hair loss and other symptoms. Reassure them that hair loss is temporary, and explore whether they would be most comfortable wearing a hat, scarf, or wig in the meantime. Discussing side effects before the start of treatment helps minimize the surprise factor when these changes occur. It also provides the medical team an opportunity to address how they will counteract side effects and help the child feel as comfortable as possible.
Another aspect of providing supportive care is being friendly and approachable when caring for your patients’ medical needs. Whether taking the child’s blood pressure, giving an injection, or preparing the child for a radiograph, telling the patient what you are about to do helps them feel more secure. You can involve the child in their medical care in small ways, such as have them count with you before giving an injection or let them choose their Band-Aid. This helps distract the child from their pain and gives them something to focus on.
CONNECTING FAMILIES WITH SUPPORT SERVICES
A cancer diagnosis often causes feelings of vulnerability in the patient. Pediatric cancer patients will experience a wide range of emotions as they cope with their diagnosis. When children express feelings, validate them and let them know that all feelings are acceptable. Providing children with verbal assurance and frequent reminders that their doctors and nurses are dedicated to caring for them helps a child feel secure and reduces their anxiety.