1 December 2015
As always, the year has flown by and we've reached December and here at Macmillan Cancer Support this month also marks Childhood Cancer Awareness. Paediatric Cancer Nurse Specialist Julie Eaton works at the University Hospital of North Midlands, Royal Stoke Hospital, and runs a children's day care unit within the hospital with a small group of specialist staff.
Julie is supporting Childhood Cancer Awareness this December as she knows first-hand how important the care and available services are for children facing cancer. She says: 'While we have Birmingham Children’s Hospital and Alderhey Children’s Hospital as our Specialist Centres, here at Royal Stoke is where we provide most of the care. We have around 22 new patients a year who I act as co-ordinator and key worker for. This involves looking after the children, not only in the day unit, but on the inpatient ward and out in the community. I provide initial home visits for the families to discuss treatments and use this opportunity to go through all the care the families need to do at home and answer questions from initial diagnosis.'
'We support the ward in looking after the inpatients too, whether they are in unwell or having chemotherapy for long periods of time and we are there to offer emotional and financial support to the patients and their families. We have no dedicated children's oncology social worker based at the Royal Stoke hospital so I assist with patients’ social needs from blue badges, charity applications, holiday planning and wishes and so on with the support from the specialist centre's CLIC (CLIC Sargent – Cancer Support for the Young) workers.'
She adds: 'I would also visit the child's school to explain all about the treatment and what to expect when the child returns. The aim is to try and keep the lives of the families as normal as possible and therefore in school when they are well to help maintain their social groups. I also visit the families at the end of treatment to ensure that they are aware of possible long-term side effects and follow up care.'
If things do not go to plan, which fortunately Julie has found to be a rarity, and a child enters the palliative and terminal phase, Julie works closely with the community team and the local hospice to provide care wherever the family want it, following up with home bereavement visits and, in conjunction with the children’s clinical psychologist, who is attached to the team, offers a bereavement support group on a monthly basis.
Julie says: 'I try toensure that the cancer journey for each individual child and family is as seamless as it can be, and normality is maintained as much as possible.'
And the best part of Julie's job? 'Building up relationships with the child and family and seeing them gaining our trust, the children eventually becoming brave little characters that give such a lot back including a lot of laughs, and putting the fun back into my job. As a paediatric nurse I work with children from 0 to 16, sometimes 18, depending on when they commenced treatment. The treatments for children’s cancers are constantly changing but every child with the same diagnosis in the UK is treated with the same treatment.'
She adds: 'I find that the children I care for are amazingly resilient. If they feel well then they run around without a care and don’t always realise the seriousness of their illness. We care for the whole family, who at times needs that support so they don’t fall apart; I feel that that makes the role of a children's nurse unique. Although there are ups and downs, I feel very proud to be a children’s cancer nurse. I feel very privileged to be allowed into the lives of children and their families facing cancer and couldn't imagine doing anything else.'
If you’re affected by cancer, you may know it can feel like a lonely and worrying time. It’s important to know that there is support there for you. If you have any questions about cancer, visit: www.macmillan.org.uk or call 0808 808 00 00. We’re here to talk to you.