Two Orkney parents battling cancer are giving thanks for a programme that helps their children cope with the stresses of hospital visits.
As part of the Balfour’s Hospital Adventures programme, there are some accident-prone teddy bears and helpful staff to help children navigate the maze of hospital treatments.
The teddies serve to make the machinery and medicines around the hospital less intimidating. And helpful doctors and nurses are there to educate children on the treatments their parents face on each visit.
The doctor behind the programme insists that hospital visits don’t have to be intimidating for children. His goal is to demystify the hospital experience for children, and parents say that it works wonders.
Balfour Hospital Adventures: Making special memories
Georgia Bendall, 46, is battling stage four colorectal cancer, as well as cancer in her breast and lymph nodes. It means repeated hospital visits and not always feeling herself.
“Many people have learned to live with a new normal as a result of Covid; this is our new normal learning to live with cancer.”
But she said that the friendliness of the staff and the light-hearted Hospital Adventures programme keep her children’s spirits high when she goes in for treatment.
“A cancer diagnosis throws your world into chaos and it is terrifying for everyone involved. Imagine trying to cope with this as a child when any kind of change can be daunting.
“Children are naturally scared as mummy or daddy is poorly and needs to go to hospital.
“The medicine they give can often seem like the enemy as it makes mummy sick – hospitals, doctors and nurses are meant to make mummy better – so it can be very confusing for a child.
“I cannot stress how much (The Hospital Adventures) has helped my girls. They were very anxious about the hospital visits, which only added to my own worry on top of everything else.
“The Hospital Adventures are allowing us to make really special memories at a time when I am not always feeling able to myself.
“Many people have learned to live with a new normal as a result of Covid; this is our new normal learning to live with cancer. I want my children to be able to look back on this and be able to take the positives from it.”
Listen to what your body is telling you
Earlier this year, Archie Millar, 43, learned that he has cholangiocarcinoma – bile duct cancer – which has spread to his liver and bones.
He and his wife Lesley-Anne are keen to encourage everyone to pay attention to any symptoms they are feeling, even common ones.
“It’s easy to ignore the aches and pains, especially for men who maybe have a physical job. But, please, don’t – it could mean the difference between life and death.”
He is currently facing a difficult wait for scan results. But up to this point, he said that the Hospital Adventures programme helped his children cope while he endured nine chemotherapy cycles.
“Our youngest daughter, in particular, has struggled with dad being at hospital for chemotherapy, scared it was hurting him.”
On one visit, hospital staff took the children on a scavenger hunt around the hospital. In addition to a bit of fun, the hunt served to familiarize the little ones with the machines and medicines that are being used to treat their dad.
“For the kids to be able to come and have a look around in a fun way while searching for equipment and staff in the hospital really helped them to see what a nice place the hospital is and how utterly brilliant the staff are.
“The staff also let them know that they are there not only to look after dad but to support the kids too and let them know if they have any questions, they can ask them at any time.”
Balfour Hospital Adventures: Dispersing the dark clouds
He said that it did the important work of acknowledging the anxiety that children feel when they have a parent in treatment.
Hospital adventures is the brainchild of trauma nurse Dr Tariro Gandiya. She said that hospitals are understandably scary for children, but that they don’t have to be.
“Whenever someone has to come into a hospital it can be a highly emotive time. Whether it’s a fleeting visit or the start of many appointments for a long time, hospitals have been associated with a dark cloud. Hospitals don’t have to be that way.
“We hope to demystify hospitals and offer mini virtual adventures and education for children.”
“May each visit be an adventure with wins and losses. In each adventure, we hope you may meet people with nuggets of wisdom, jokes or a simple smile to help you carry on.”
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