This month is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and my September entries will be dedicated to this cause. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart as my son has been in remission since March 2021 from neuroblastoma. From diagnosis to treatment to planning a future, pediatric cancer affects every single aspect of life and is a constant reminder to not take moments for granted. This experience has also shown me that heroes walk among us and I had the opportunity of interviewing one of these heroes:

Afifah Chaudrey from the Montreal Children’s Hospital

Afifah is a Child Life Specialist on the Pediatric Oncology ward, and just mentioning her name makes my son’s big blue eyes light up and look around for her. She is kind, warm hearted and the children on the ward absolutely love her. Is it because she is the lady that brings them toys and crafts and activities?

Perhaps! But she is also so much more! Afifah has been working as a Certified Child Life Specialist for four years, three of which have been on the Hematology/Oncology Clinic. Her mandate is to help support the patients as they progress through their medical journey. She advocates for the patients, prepares them for medical procedures, and educates and empowers them to use comforting strategies as they experience stressful events within the hospital. When my son, Brandon, needs to have a needle, Afifah pops up and distracts him so that the focus shifts away from the “ouchie”.

The role of Child Life Services is to help the patients understand their diagnosis in a developmentally appropriate manner. The children are encouraged to play with real and pretend medical tools. I’ve witnessed first-hand children playing with stethoscopes and thermometers so that they can experiences these tools in a non-medical and nonthreatening way.

Afifah expressed that she places great importance in organizing and providing developmentally appropriate and engaging activities for the patients so that they have something positive to look forward to when coming to the hospital.

She further said that “seeing patients smile and bond with their parents while creating beautiful moments together during these activities is absolutely priceless”. And just like everyone else, she adapted her activities in light of Covid. In-person activities transformed to a virtual forum and activity-kits were distributed. The penguin thermometer that Brandon and I made is still hanging on my fridge door! We also have a paper snow globe with his picture in the middle hanging in a frame. These are the memories we want to remember and reminisce about.

Child Life Services at the Montreal Children’s Hospital pioneered the way for other pediatric hospitals across North America in 1936. The Journal of pediatrics issued the following policy statements: “Child life programs are an important component of pediatric hospital-based care”. Our family has lived through pediatric cancer and we all feel that Afifah and Anna (the other amazing Child Life Specialist at the Pediatric Oncology ward) made each hospital stay special and memorable for Brandon. I asked Afifah how can the public help? What is the call to action? Lego sets!!! Because of Covid protocols, the hospital is not yet accepting toy donations BUT if you know a toy distributor/store/manufacturer that can donate Lego to the hospital please get in touch with Afifah at afifah.chaudhry@muhc.mcgill.ca. To learn more about Child Life Services please visit https://www.childlife.org/the-child-life-profession.

Angie Schizas is a mom to a warrior child and co-founder of Brandon’s Buddies, a non-profit that benefits the Pediatric Oncology Department at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Follow them on Instagram and Facebook at @brandonsbuddiesmtl. To donate to their cause, click here.

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