Health Magazine

Helping Women with Children Get Through Treatment

Posted on the 03 February 2012 by Jean Campbell

It was snowing.

treatmentA woman and her young daughter were wet and cold when they arrived for the woman’s daily radiation treatment.

A hospital volunteer greeted them in the waiting area and extended her hand to the little girl. They went off to get some breakfast in the hospital cafeteria while the woman had reatment.

I waited for the woman after her treatment and over coffee, we spoke about her situation and what the American Cancer Society (ACS) could do to help.

She immigrated to the US from the Philippines three years earlier, shortly after her husband died. She moved in with her sister, a nurse. Before her breast cancer, she also worked as a nurse. She and her sister worked different shifts so that one of them could always be home with the little girl.

Chemo and then radiation made it impossible for her to work and money was scarce. With no car, she had to travel over an hour each way for daily radiation. She had to bring her young child with her because her sister was working 12 hour shifts to make ends meet. She had no other family in the area to help with child care.

On bad weather days, hospital staff dipped into their own pockets to send her home in a cab after treatment.

As a navigator for ACS, I put her in touch with her local ACS office. She began receiving transportation assistance and a referral for a free home-delivered meals program.

While this assistance made a huge difference in her situation, she still needed to care for her child while weak and sick from treatment. With no family nearby to mind her child each day, she continued to bring the child with her to treatment.

Unfortunately, this is not a unique situation. I met many women with breast cancer who had no one to help them cope with caring for their children during treatment.

Currently, there are no standards of care to guide treatment providers on how to help cancer patients with young children other than to refer them to the hospital’s Department of Social Services.

Given that there are many young women in breast cancer treatment who have small children, hospitals and physicians need to have a formal plan in place to offer practical supports.

Whatever the plan, a key component of the plan needs to be an onsite children’s play area. It can be staffed by volunteer.  Here, children can participate in activities while their moms see their doctors, receive treatment, or participate in a support group.

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