Childhood Cancer

Children need to play, especially when hospitalized. The hospital probably has a recreation therapy or child life department that has toys, books, dolls, and crafts. The specialists really know how to play with children and also provide many therapeutic activities, such as medical play with dolls, which helps children express fears or concerns about what is happening to them. By encouraging contact with other children in similar circumstances, recreation therapy helps children feel less alone and less different from their peers.

Sometimes you can create your own fun with just a little imagination. On one particular occasion, Matthew was feeling especially bored. With a little ingenuity, we soon discovered that four unused IV poles and as many blankets as we could “steal” from the linen cart made for one pretty cool tent. We then used the mattress from a roll-away cot, and spent the night “camping” in his hospital room. He had a wonderful time.

The fun-filled activities and smiling staff people in the child life department are a cheerful change from lying in a hospital bed. If your child is too ill or if her counts are too low to go to the play area, arrangements can be made for a recreational therapist to bring a bundle of toys, games, and books to the room. Some hospitals host bingo games and silly variety shows on closed circuit TV so children who aren’t able to go to the playroom can be included in the fun. Music and art therapists may also come to the bedside. This can give the parent time to go out to eat or take a walk.

When I wanted to have a conference with the oncologist about Katy’s protocol, I called recreation therapy and they sent two wonderful ladies to the clinic. The doctor and I were able to talk privately for an hour, and Katy had a great time making herself a gold crown and decorating her wheelchair with streamers and jewels.

Exercise is important, too. For kids strong enough to walk, exploring the hospital can be fun. Even if they can’t walk, you can wheel them around or pull them in a wagon if they feel up to it. (This is also a great workout for you.) Plan a daily excursion to the gift shop or the cafeteria. Go outside and walk the entire perimeter of the hospital if weather and the neighborhood permit. Do not feel limited by an IV pole; it can be pushed or pulled and will feel normal after a while. Many children stand on the base of the IV pole with a parent pushing them down the hall at a good clip. Physical and occupational therapists can help your child incorporate exercise into the daily routine.

At our hospital, there was a large metal tricycle with a huge metal basket on the back. I would heplock Kenny, toss him in the back, then we would pedal all over the hospital. There is one part of the hospital called “the tunnel” that connects the children’s hospital with Emory Hospital. It is about a mile-long tunnel—all downhill. Man, we would fly—laughing and screaming. Of course, coming back up was pure hell.

Any action that parents, family members, and friends take to support and advocate for the child with cancer buoys the spirit. Courage is contagious.


In our hospital photos, I have several of a grinning 4 year old, hooked up to an IV, in a hospital bed, with the head raised waaaaaaayyyy up, as she’d slide down to the bottom. Of course I was doing guard duty at the door, to alert the happy child when a nurse was coming and she needed to “cease this unsafe behavior immediately!” Sometimes you have to make memories while you can, wherever you are.