Hospitals Get Creative to Help Kids Manage Cancer

Hospitals Get Creative to Help Kids Manage Cancer

From pet pen-pals to play therapy, hospitals are making sure that children with cancer don’t miss out on having a fun childhood.

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, their world changes. Play dates become doctor’s appointments, and sports practice is replaced with chemotherapy treatments.

Life loses normalcy for kids and parents alike. But more and more hospitals recognize that easing those changes leads to a better quality of life for children in the hospital, and better health outcomes in the long term. In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, check out some of the innovative programs hospitals are deploying to make cancer care easier for kids.

My pen pal Spot

For children diagnosed with cancer, fear, anxiety, and pain can be difficult to express. That’s why Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Youth and Pet Survivors Program (YAPS) pairs child and pet survivors of cancer to manage the disease together.

YAPS gives these kids an outlet with a pet pen pal. Kids write letters sharing their experiences with their fluffy new friend, who sends paw-printed notes in return. There’s no better listener than a dog, and the effects of YAPS are comparable to that of direct pet therapy: providing companionship, reducing fear, and sharing joy.

We exist in hospitals to normalize the hospital environment by decreasing anxiety and increasing coping skills.

Melissa Sexton

Child Life Special Events Coordinator at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health

Bedside classrooms

For children, hospitalization for cancer often means missed school, tests, and even graduations. But at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, no child has ever been held back in school because of a cancer diagnosis.

Riley accomplishes this remarkable outcome by employing eight licensed teachers to bring lessons directly to the kids — whether that’s to their bedside, or in the hospital’s on-site classrooms. These teachers go the distance — developing personalized plans, tutoring bedside, and even picking up textbooks and other supplies. This personalized support ensures that kids can return to their classroom as soon as their treatment ends.

Clowning it up

They say that laughter is the best medicine, and the Clown Docs at St. Louis Children’s Hospital are determined to prove it. These professional clowns bring games, tricks, and much-needed distractions to the bedside of children who are hospitalized with cancer.

But this program is no joke — recent studies have found that clowns improve children’s hospital experiences and reduce levels of the hormone cortisol, a sign of stress.

A camera on cancer

Cancer is scary, exhausting, and painful for children, but creativity helps. Mount Sinai is finding new ways to use creative arts to help pediatric patients break up the hospital doldrums, and achieve better health outcomes.

At Mount Sinai, on-site creative arts therapists partner with young patients to produce a literary journal, concerts, and even a daily closed-circuit TV broadcast. A recent broadcast became interactive when hospital staff delivered craft supplies direct to children’s rooms in advance of the show. The TV hosts then led viewers through an on-screen arts and crafts demonstration, and viewers followed along — making it possible for every kid in the hospital to participate and get creative.

Cancer is difficult for everyone, but children face unique challenges. During Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, learn more about how hospitals are raising the bar on cancer care for children.