A Letter to Child Life Students; Finding Hope After Rejection

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Guest Blogger, Belinda Hammond from Child Life Connection 

The gift of time….

I hear from so many students about the frustrations of applying to practicums and internships, and as we know, the process isn’t as easy as we’d hope. I’ve had several students share that they don’t know how to accept or deal with rejection….in my mind, getting a “no” on a clinical application isn’t a rejection. Here are my thoughts….

When I decided to make the return to child life about 10 years ago after leaving to pursue a doctoral degree (which I never finished due to health issues), I had relocated to an area that had no child life and no children’s hospitals. I began by presenting the idea to my local community hospital, but couldn’t convince them they had the need, even though I recognized it as my own children received medical care in their facility. I started seeking out other community hospitals in the area and found two with pediatric beds and both were interested in child life, but neither had the funding to add a position….but, both saw potential in the philosophies of child life and how they could impact their pediatric patients. I decided to start doing consulting work, first as a volunteer for 6 months in each of the two programs to see what I could do and how I could best impact my local programs. Through my child life lens, I saw a playroom that wasn’t inviting for children and was used as a storage closet more than a playroom. I saw an opportunity to make a difference and reintroduce play to these patients. I reached out to a local university, and found a team of artists looking for a capstone project, and together we re-created an amazing pediatric playroom. From there I found a grant and funded 25 more original mural for hospitals throughout the region that also provided medical care to pediatric patients. I introduced myself to several non-profit agencies that offered a range of opportunities for play (from mobile playrooms to technology to individual toys and crafts) and began developing play programs for my local hospitals, and they began to see the impact child life philosophies could have on their patients and families. Today, two of the programs in my region now have a child life specialist on staff, with a third preparing to offer child life within the next year. I have also become an active board member of one of the non-profit agencies, and am able to introduce their program to other hospitals around the country!

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I was “lucky” that I had a salary coming from part time teaching in community college (something I had done since working as a CCLS in-hospital) – I could afford to volunteer to get my consulting started. Eventually I moved on to teaching university level (undergraduate and graduate courses), but was always a “freeway flyer” because that meant I could continue teaching, and continue building my consulting service, while also pursuing a doctorate degree. I received a postcard while in my doctorate program about training to teach online, and thought about how nice it would be to not have to travel so much to teach, and signed up! And it was because of my studies that I had a meeting with our university’s extension program about my dissertation idea (to pilot an inservice training online) that we started talking about what I do. About 2 months before this meeting, I found an online class in need of an instructor for a single semester while its regular instructor was on maternity leave, and I was able to showcase the portion of the class I had developed, and was offered the chance to teach this class once again for my own university. What started as a single class turned into an entire academic certificate program, and what started as the opportunity to create one program turned into three. Because of this “chance” meeting, 7 other CCLS’ were also able to start teaching online there as well! Remember, online child life wasn’t even a “thing” when I started pursuing it!

So why am I telling you about my path? Because if you had asked me 10 years ago where I would be now professionally, I would never in my wildest dreams have said that I’d be successfully working again in child life while being able to work around my kids schedules (I work from home, teaching online full time) but making what I know is an incredible impact on children in hospitals around the globe. There was no job listing for my consulting role or the creation of my first academic program in child life. I simply took the time to create new challenges for myself, and those next steps in my career path made perfect sense once I got there.

The one thing that didn’t make sense at the time was the first child life program where I volunteered in-hospital for 6 months, and then for 2 years supporting their mural development and play programs through consulting…..I was offered their first paid child life role, and for reasons I still don’t understand, it ended up going to someone else who was already a hospital employee with a child development background, but no child life experience. I was devastated, not because I didn’t get the job, but because I felt I had gone above and beyond anything they asked of me with the promise that when the job was available, it would be mine.

Why do I bring up this “heartbreak”? Because at about this same time, my son started having health issues that were soon diagnosed as Epilepsy….and I decided to home school him until we could get better control of his seizure activity. What a gift it turned out to be that I wasn’t working 90 minutes from home, and that I was able to teach online and be able to be with him and supporting both his education and his health. And while it was tough to see in that moment, what a gift it was that the job I had worked so hard for wasn’t meant to be mine. An even great gift is finding out one of my former students took on that CCLS role a few weeks ago, and without the path that I found myself on, that program wouldn’t have existed and she would never have been my student. I truly believe this is the path we were both meant to take!

BelindaHammond&JustinAnd while home schooling my son, I decided to enroll in a few classes to learn how to better support some of my son’s physical challenges ( he was also born with low muscle tone and had several challenges as a result) – and enrolled in two classes that focused on exercise & sports physiology and motor learning. I found many similarities between these courses and the supports I had provided in hospital, so in addition to utilizing my new skills with my son, continued to take classes that I thought would help me professionally. I reached the point where I had completed all of the classes and had only research classes remaining for a new masters degree, and thought it made sense to complete these as preparation for returning to my doctoral studies!

I should also add that while my doctoral studies were always a part of my plan, that first attempt ended with both myself and my newborn experiencing significant health issues, and I had to decide which direction to focus my attention on (obviously, health won!). I reinstated about 10 years later and that was the reason for my meeting on a pilot study for my dissertation….and found myself having to decide between my doctorate once again or creating an online academic program in child life (know that opportunity might never appear again, I jumped at the chance), and then found myself unable to reinstate again to complete my degree. I’m now pursuing a new doctorate which better fits my experiences over the past 20 years, but I have to say that I absolutely love the academic path I’m now on, focusing on Educational Leadership (although I have so many more insights and experiences because of my previous studies in Special Education, Disabilities and Risk Studies, and both absolutely influence who I am both professionally and personally)!

I have so many stories I could share of connections and timings that have made so many opportunities possible – not just for me, but for my colleagues and my student/colleagues! Timing isn’t about what you think should be happening and when, but I absolutely believe it has more to do with the universe holding a plan for each of us – for finding us those perfect opportunities and the perfect time, and we may not understand they “why’s” until we’re able to look back on the entire timeline of what happened beyond that “no” and that guided us towards the right “yes”, how that was the path we were meant to be on. Let go of your frustrations (I know, easier said than done) and find those opportunities that speak to you the most, and run with them! And don’t give up on your dreams….know that not every dream needs to become a reality right then and there, and that there’s meaning to every experience and that those experiences will make you stronger in whatever you pursue! The right path for each of us is to continue reaching for goals, and knowing goals can lead you down a different path than you anticipated, but that crazy unanticipated path can still help you achieve those same goals. Allow yourself the opportunity to experience more than what you planned, but what you were meant to experience!

BelindaHammondBelinda Hammond, M.A., M.S., CCLS, CIMI. Ms. Hammond is the founder of Child Life Connection, a consulting service created to build or enhance play opportunities in medical facilities providing services for pediatric patients, and to provide/support Child Life/Therapeutic Play programs for pediatric settings, all in an effort to make being in the hospital less scary for children. Ms. Hammond currently is a full time lecturer with Eastern Washington University (Children’s Studies/Child Life & Health), and a part time lecturer with American Public University (Human Development & Family Studies/Child Life) and California State University Northridge (Child & Adolescent Development/Child Life). Ms. Hammond is currently completing her doctoral studies in Educational Leadership through California State University Channel Islands/Fresno, and holds a B.A. in Child Development and an M.A. in Educational Psychology/Early Childhood Education with a specialization in Play Therapy (both from California State University Northridge) and an M.S. in Sports and Health Science (from American Public University).

Related Articles:

“I’m Moving Mountains That I once had to Climb.” Journey of a Child life Specialist Overcoming her Medical Challenges 

Navigating the Road to Becoming a Certified Child Life Specialist 

Tips on Landing a Child Life Practicum

What It’s Like When Someone You Love Has Terminal Cancer

Guest Blogger, Kimberly Kow, originally published on Scary Mommy

What is it like when someone you love has terminal cancer?

It is one big mindfuck.

The slow agonizing pain of anticipatory grief can chip away at one’s soul and wear you down like waves churning rocks into sand. Anticipatory grief is the thief that steals joy from the present. It is hard to shake this thief. Seemingly happy moments shift reluctantly and without warning into a bittersweet mess of emotions.

You want to spend every day living for each moment. But instead, you spend most days gripped in fear, panic, helplessness, and all the emotions in between. Remaining grateful for what you do have helps. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that you are straddling the unknown and about to barrel toward a place you do not want to be. The longing for more of these moments, for time, is fierce and unrelenting.

I’m a child life specialist. My job is to help other families through trauma and loss. I have sat across from hundreds of parents and siblings and helped to deliver bad news. Offering encouragement and helping families find peace is what I’m trained to do. But it does not make my reality any easier.

In some ways, it makes it harder because I know what to expect. I know that the depth of my pain hasn’t been reached yet. The thing is, it’s really hard to live when you are dying. This is as true for the caretaker as it is for the patient. Because truly living in the moment requires you to acknowledge that there may not be another moment and that you can’t get this time back.

But that is a lot of pressure to squeeze beauty out of every moment when all your loved one wants is for things to stay normal and to pretend that this fucked up thing that is cancer doesn’t exist. But it does. And there’s no hiding it when you want to make plans but you can’t predict how your loved one will feel that day.

On a good day, you want to shoot for the moon and live it up. On a bad day, the littlest things become seemingly impossible. And then comes the mental scolding of why did we get so ahead of ourselves. We “should have known everything can change on a dime.” We kick ourselves for planning too far in advance.

But how can we not when we need things to look forward to? We need that goalpost to be set as high as possible because those are the moments that keep us going. Those are the memories we crave and long for. We risk utter disappointment for the chance of a brief reprieve from reality.

Imagine all the things we want to do in life suddenly having to be pushed up on to an accelerated timeline. Now or never.

Some people romanticize the idea of living for the moment, but there is nothing romantic about it when you are 37 years old with metastatic breast cancer and have no other choice. I want to give my sister the world. I want to cram a lifetime of memories into months. But the constraints of every day responsibilities and realities make this an uphill battle. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying. But it does mean there are limits. And that is just one of the many major frustrations of living on borrowed time.

Another is the guilt. It feels selfish taking these trips together and hoarding all these memories when other family members deserve this time too. But I can’t plan for everyone else. The pressure to pretend to feel good when she doesn’t is exhausting. I try to make it clear to my sister that with me she doesn’t have to pretend. She still does so out of her own stubbornness and attempt to protect me. But to a lesser extent.

There are no words that need to be said when she is not feeling well. I always know, and I’m strong enough to hold that information. I don’t need things sugarcoated because I know too much already about what this beast is doing to her body. Sugarcoating things makes me angry. It’s okay for her to say she feels like shit. It should be acknowledged. She should be allowed to live truthfully and to say what we are all thinking. This just fucking sucks.

People often refer to metastatic cancer as mets. But mets sounds cute and sweet. Metastatic is anything but that. It’s a fucking cowardly beast that would be invisible if not for the giant tumor. I want to wrestle it out of my sister. Strangle it to the ground. But I can’t. I keep going back to the same thought of why can’t she just take half of my liver? Like a lizard tail, the liver is supposed to regenerate. I know it’s not that easy, but I wish it were as simple as me just giving part of my body to make hers better.

I have googled article after article trying desperately to find some obscure cure her doctor may not have heard of. Hours looking into that one Facebook video of the study with cancer cells that shrunk in hours! I have bought all the teas and expensive mushrooms I can find on the Internet. You know you’re desperate when you have a $50 bag of dried mushrooms in your Amazon cart.

For now, I know my sister will rally like she always does and face the next day with a bravery that is unworldly and usually only seen in movies. Random acts of kindness from friends and strangers will continue to surprise us and keep us afloat as she fights to navigate the unimaginable. And the almost daily certainty of the absurd will make us laugh. People who say the absolutely wrong thing. A comedy of errors with insurance, scans, a flurry of disability paperwork, medical records, and a wide spectrum of well-meaning people to complete assholes.

It would almost be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Related Articles:

You’re Not Alone; Sisters Fighting Breast Cancer Together 

My Family Is Stronger Today Because Of Our Journey With Cancer

My Family Is Stronger Today Because Of Our Journey With Cancer

Guest Blogger, Nat Miller

Sunday, June 3 is National Cancer Survivors Day, a day of celebration for cancer survivors and a day of hope for those currently fighting cancer, like my daughter Hazel. In honor of National Cancer Survivors Day, I’m inspired to share my family’s story with you. I hope that my words provide some solace to families hurting, hope to those who are afraid and light to those who are trapped in the midst of darkness.

I have started this narrative numerous times, each an attempt to say what I felt needed to be said about my family’s journey with cancer. All of those attempts before now focused on the “cancer part,” the hospital visits, the medications, the ups and downs of testing, side effects, traveling, and mainly despair.

Wrongly, I felt that to give my perspective as a father, I had to walk my readers through the everyday heartache that is dealing with cancer. But then I realized that by doing so, I would be giving cancer too much power, too much credit for what it is. Instead of telling a story about cancer, today I want to tell a story about people, love, and support.

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Hazel is the youngest of my four children and was 2 years old when diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. She is now 3 years old and has entered the “Maintenance Phase” of her treatment which will last until she turns 5 years old in 2020. The past year has been tough, the toughest of my life in fact. Since that fateful day in April 2017 when Hazel was diagnosed, I have shed many tears; mourning the pain and heartache that Hazel has been forced to endure in such a short time on this earth. In the days following diagnosis, I lamented that it should be me and not her. I was so angry that my youngest, most vulnerable child was being attacked by an invisible villain that I had no control over, that I could not kill.

I would love to say that I dealt with the events of this past year with some sort of grace, a type of dignity, but alas, I do not feel that was the case. It was hard, so excruciatingly hard, that we simply got through it however we could. My family of six was often split up, some of us attending chemo visits in the hospital two hours away, some of us trying to maintain a normal life in our hometown of Marietta, Ohio. Events were missed, vacations foregone, and birthdays moved. This experience changed our life in almost every way possible, but it never broke us, never destroyed our bond.

My family is stronger today because of our journey with cancer, and here is why: people. The people that we have met during this process have been unforeseen blessings, providing comfort, support, love, and respect at every turn. We have met people from all walks of life that helped provide the stilts to prop my family up as we struggled to manage our situation. We have never been made to feel needy when we asked for help, nor weak when we stumbled.

Some of those most cherished people have been representatives from The National Children’s Cancer Society (NCCS). During the early days of Hazel’s treatment, as time off work stretched longer and hospital stays were more prevalent, the NCCS stepped in to provide financial support to meet a specific, direct need for my family. As we progressed through treatment, the NCCS followed up with us, providing informational resources as we transitioned into new treatment phases. Finally, as we continue to walk this uncertain path into the future, the NCCS has been quick to provide emotional and ongoing support for all of our family members.

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The story that I want to be told today is not about cancer or even about my family specifically, but is about the people that fight cancer, and the people that help others fight cancer. They are as courageous as the patients themselves, waking up each day with a goal to help families in certain peril. These individuals understand all of the toughest aspects of dealing with cancer and use their resources to help keep families like mine afloat in the tumultuous sea of life. The impact the NCCS has had on my family has been profound and will shape our life from now until we leave this earth. For them, we are eternally grateful and forever in debt.

– Nat Miller, father of Hazel Miller

Click here to learn more about the support from The National Children’s Cancer Society