Coping when your child has cancer

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Your child’s healthcare team

Treating cancer takes teamwork. Each member of your child’s healthcare team has expertise in a specific area. Along with treating your child, they will also provide information, help to explain things and answer any questions that you or your child may have. They can also provide emotional support and help you find your way in the healthcare system.

As a parent, you are an important part of the healthcare team. No one knows your child like you do. You can help your child feel comfortable with the healthcare team and help the healthcare team get to know your child. You can help by sharing how your child is coping and talking about any side effects, worries or problems they may be having. You can also help with keeping communication open between all members of the healthcare team.

Your child’s healthcare team will vary depending on the type of cancer your child has and the treatments they will receive. Your child’s team may also include other specialties not mentioned below. The more common healthcare professionals that may be a part of your child’s healthcare team include:

Anesthetist or anesthesiologist

An anesthetist or anesthesiologist is a doctor who gives drugs that cause a loss of feeling or awareness (called anesthetics) to prevent or relieve pain during surgery and other procedures done in the hospital.

Art therapist

An art therapist helps your child express and understand their emotions through art and the creative process.

Child life specialist

A child life specialist is trained in child development and understands how children react to illness and being in the hospital. They use activities that are based on play to help children understand their diagnosis and cope with tests, procedures and treatment. Child life specialists can help you understand your child’s behaviour and offer suggestions to help you support your child and your child’s siblings.

Dietitian

A registered dietitian teaches you about healthy eating and ways to support nutrition through the treatment process. They also help with problems your child may have with nutrition while being treated.

Endocrinologist

An endocrinologist is a doctor who specializes in diseases related to the endocrine system. The endocrine system is made up of glands that produce hormones. Endocrinologists may be involved in the care of children with certain types of cancer or cancer treatment. They may be involved during therapy, in follow-up care after cancer treatment is complete, or both.

Family doctor (general practitioner, GP)

A family doctor gives general, primary care. This is the doctor who your child was seeing before they were diagnosed. The healthcare team will update your child’s family doctor with information about your child’s cancer and treatment. Your child may see your family doctor during their treatment. Your child’s family doctor is often involved in follow-up and care after cancer treatments.

Gynecologist

A gynecologist is a doctor who specializes in women’s health and the female reproductive system. A gynecologist may be involved in planning treatment for certain types of cancer. They may perform surgeries, such as fertility preservation techniques, to prevent late side effects. They may also be involved in follow-up care to manage late effects.

Medical oncologist

A medical oncologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer using chemotherapy and supportive therapy during treatment (for example, blood transfusions). This is generally the main doctor for a child with cancer. They give supportive care and may coordinate treatment given by other specialists.

Music therapist

A music therapist uses music to help your child cope and provide emotional support. Activities may include singing, writing songs, playing instruments, telling stories through song and listening.

Neuropsychologist

A neuropsychologist is a psychologist who specializes in understanding the relationship between the brain and behaviour. They assess certain skills and functions, such as attention, memory, language, fine motor skills, academic skills and problem solving. Neuropsychologists can help children who may have learning problems as a result of cancer and its treatment.

Neurosurgeon

A neurosurgeon is a doctor who specializes in surgery on the brain, spine or other parts of the nervous system.

Neurologist

A neurologist is a doctor who treats problems involving the nervous system and brain.

Nurse

Nurses give daily nursing care in the hospital or at home. They often have the most contact with you and your child. Nurses give medicine, take blood, give chemotherapy and give any other care your child will need while they are being treated. Nurses are often involved with teaching and helping your child and your family. They can answer questions and give emotional support. A nurse helps to admit you into the hospital, performs important monitoring while in hospital and makes sure you are prepared when your child is discharged from the hospital. Many nurses will care for your child, and there are different types of nurses with different specialties.

Nurse practitioner

A nurse practitioner (NP) is a nurse with specialized education and training who provides direct care to patients including health promotion and the treatment and management of health conditions. NPs have an expanded scope of practice and can diagnose, order and interpret diagnostic tests. They can also prescribe medications and perform certain procedures. Your child’s treatment center may have NPs as part of the healthcare team.

Occupational therapist

An occupational therapist is trained to deal with problems with daily activities such as eating, bathing and dressing. They can help your child with daily activities. This includes playing and activities at home and school. They can also make suggestions to modify your home or school as needed for your child.

Oncology nurse

An oncology nurse has received special education to care for people with cancer. Oncology nurses may work in chemotherapy departments, radiation therapy departments, bone marrow transplant units, in-patient oncology units or the community. A pediatric oncology nurse is an oncology nurse who specializes in treating children with cancer.

Ophthalmologist

An ophthalmologist is a doctor who specializes in diseases and surgeries of the eye.

Orthopedic surgeon

An orthopedic surgeon is a doctor who specializes in surgeries, diseases and injuries of the bones.

Pain specialist

A pain specialist treats pain. Pain specialists include anesthetists, neurologists, palliative care doctors, oncologists, nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and psychologists.

Palliative care team members focus on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of cancer and on improving the quality of life for the whole family. Palliative care can be given at any age and at any time after a cancer diagnosis. It can be given along with treatments to cure cancer. Palliative care is provided by different healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers and child life specialists. This team works with your child’s oncologist and treatment team to manage your child’s comfort.

Pathologist

A pathologist is a doctor who studies cells and tissues under a microscope to make a diagnosis of cancer or to see how cancer is responding to treatment.

Pediatrician

A pediatrician is a doctor who specializes in treating children and infants. Your child may have been seeing a pediatrician before being diagnosed. The healthcare team at your child’s treatment centre will update your child’s pediatrician with information about your child’s cancer and treatment. Your child may see their pediatrician for checkups during treatment. Depending on your child’s age, your child’s pediatrician is often involved in follow-up and care after cancer treatments.

Pediatric hematologist

A pediatric hematologist is a doctor who specializes in diseases and cancers of the blood and blood tissue in children.

Pediatric neuro-oncologist

A pediatric neuro-oncologist is a pediatric oncologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating tumours in the brain and nervous system in children.

Pediatric oncologist

A pediatric oncologist is a doctor who specializes in planning and giving cancer treatment to children. A pediatric oncologist is usually the main, or primary, doctor for your child during cancer treatment and is involved in your child’s overall care. They are involved with diagnosing and treating cancer using chemotherapy. They also provide supportive care (for example, blood transfusions) and may coordinate treatment given by other specialists.

Many children’s cancer centres are in teaching hospitals, which means they are connected to a medical school. In a teaching hospital you will meet doctors who have different titles and different levels of responsibility. Resident and fellow are titles you might hear for doctors who are taking more specialty training.

Pharmacist

A pharmacist is an expert on how drugs behave in the body. They prepare cancer drugs and other medicines and explain how they work. In the hospital, pharmacists work with other members of the healthcare team to make decisions about drug therapy and which drugs or what amounts of drugs might be best. The pharmacist can explain how to give your child medicines at home. They can also tell you about possible side effects and how to prevent or manage side effects.

Physiotherapist or physical therapist

A physiotherapist, or physical therapist, is trained to treat any problems with movement caused by nerve damage or muscle problems. They teach exercises and physical activities that keep muscles strong and flexible or restore strength and movement. For example, a physiotherapist might help your child with learning how to walk with crutches or help them with breathing after a test or surgery.

Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist is a doctor who specializes in treating problems with behaviour and emotions. A pediatric psychiatrist specializes in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of emotional and behavioural conditions in children. A psychiatrist can prescribe medication to help treat symptoms your child is having. They also provide counselling and help you and your child understand, manage and cope with feelings, emotions, thoughts, worries and behaviours. They can also teach your child how to manage pain, stress and anxiety, or worrying.

Psychologist

A child or teen psychologist specializes in working with children, teens and families who need help with mental, emotional or behavioural issues. A psychologist can help children with cancer understand and talk about their cancer. They can help young people use techniques to get through treatment, pain and tests. They can provide counselling and also can help with school issues. They may also work with parents and siblings and help the family cope during and after treatment.

Radiation oncologist

A radiation oncologist is a doctor who specializes in treating cancer with radiation. A radiation oncologist will develop the treatment plan for your child.

Radiation therapist

A radiation therapist helps plan and deliver radiation therapy and will help manage your child’s side effects from this treatment.

Radiologist

A radiologist is a doctor who reads and interprets x-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, MRIs and other scans to diagnose diseases. A radiologist performs biopsies guided by x-rays or ultrasound.

Social worker

A social worker helps you and your family cope with the illness and its treatment. Social workers can provide counselling or refer you to counselling, support groups, financial help and other resources.

Spiritual care worker

A spiritual care worker is trained to offer support and prayer according to your family’s spiritual and religious needs.

Surgeon

A surgeon is a doctor who performs biopsies or surgery. A pediatric surgeon is a doctor who specializes in surgery in children.

Thoracic surgeon

A thoracic surgeon is a doctor who operates on the organs in the chest.

Urologist

A urologist is a doctor who specializes in treating problems of the urinary tract, kidneys and the male genitals. A urologist may be involved in planning treatment for certain types of cancer. They may perform surgeries, such as fertility preservation techniques, to prevent late side effects. They may also be involved in follow-up care to manage late effects.

anesthetic

A drug that causes anesthesia (the loss of some or all feeling or awareness).

General anesthetics put a person to sleep. Regional anesthetics cause a loss of feeling in a part of the body, such as an arm or leg, but the person does not lose awareness. Local anesthetics numb only a small area of the body.

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