By Julie Gersch, Ph.D., HSP
When a family hears the words, “Your child has cancer,” a wave of unfamiliar and unwanted thoughts and feelings washes over their life. At that moment, the world as they knew it is forever changed.
As with any crisis, priorities shift as the family begins to hone a brand new set of knowledge, skills, and abilities just to get from one day to the next. Naturally, a large portion of time and attention is placed on what is happening to a child diagnosed with cancer from a physical medicine standpoint. Yet, empirical evidence1 increasingly suggests, for the best short and long term outcomes, incorporation of simultaneous psychosocial interventions from the time of diagnoses throughout treatment and into long-term recovery is warranted.
Where can families find tailored psychosocial support at each step of their uncharted childhood cancer journey?
Pediatric cancer touches every member of the family in varying ways. Backed by science, the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer is a one-of-a-kind space for helping the entire family system combat emerging problems and keep future-focused on positive growth.
In our cutting edge 33,000 sq. ft. Educational Advancement Center, we provide an array of services across several disciplines known to play a critical role in helping children living with cancer and their loved ones. Based on the special series of scholarly articles published in Pediatric Blood & Cancer (December 2015), the nationally recognized standards of pediatric psycho-oncology care include: psychosocial assessment and intervention; neuropsychological testing; supports for parents, siblings, and grandparents; medication adherence coaching; anticipatory guidance and psychoeducation; medical procedure preparation; social interaction outlets and programming with other families facing a pediatric cancer diagnosis; school re-entry and career support; financial hardship analysis; palliative care; and in some unfortunate circumstances – bereavement follow-up.
Consistent with empirical literature, the Austin Hatcher team communicates with the referring physician oncologists and pediatricians to ensure a thorough understanding of the diagnosis and treatment progression so services are paced appropriately. This is known as Collaborative Care.
Our dedicated clinical team then works with each unique family to understand their specific needs and goals, as well as their unique place on several important psychosocial continuums. This is called Family- or Culture-Centered Care.
Next, our team works together in-house to ensure the countless, common problems that could impact the patient and family system are being addressed. This best practice is referred to as Multidisciplinary-Integrated Care.
Taken together, our compelling array of evidence-based programs and solutions currently includes:
Occupational Therapy to promote physical, sensory, fine and gross motor development
Psychotherapy to help the person with cancer and all family members cope, adjust and change, and enhance quality of life
Neuropsychological Testing to measure cognitive functioning, identify neuropsychological disruption and optimize school/work performance, including IEP/504 plans
Industrial Arts (Woodworking, Car Building) to offer diversionary therapy and teach life skills
Music and Art Therapy to foster stress reduction and enhance emotional functioning
Educational Enrichment to bolster intellect, based on STEAM curriculum and Tennessee state standards
Family Programming to provide day camps, sibling events, parent events and respite
Academic Support to provide tutoring and virtual learning
There is no question a childhood cancer diagnosis triggers a cascade of challenges for the family in the short term crisis, eventually crossing over into long-run survivorship. New and improved treatments have thankfully lead to much higher numbers of childhood cancer survivors2. Relatively speaking, the medical and psycho-oncology fields are just beginning to see, study, and understand the various long-term outcomes called, “Late Effects.”
At Austin Hatcher, we provide our compelling services and supports long after treatment for pediatric cancer has ended and throughout relapse or remission as childhood cancer survivors age into puberty, young, middle, or older adulthood.
Our team is paying close attention to the research coming out of this relatively new field, and we have strategically positioned ourselves to respond as scientist-practitioners by offering customized services and programs, as well as engaging in future studies that will contribute to the needed literature and provider knowledge base here in the southeast and nationally.
While we offer a large menu of specialized and diverse services tailored to each unique patient and family, the overarching, cardinal goal at Austin Hatcher Foundation is rather simple: Help people impacted by a diagnosis of childhood cancer achieve and maintain their highest practicable levels of physical, cognitive, and psychosocial functioning. Operating as a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation, all services offered at Austin Hatcher are provided at completely zero cost to the family and their health insurance plan. At no point is our care or our array of vital services hindered or limited by what is covered by insurance. In the pediatric cancer arena, this reality makes Austin Hatcher Foundation a novel rarity and is truly what drives our robust outcomes and client satisfaction ratings.
In the fast evolving landscape of psycho-oncology, our unique care programs, diverse practitioner team, and incredible Educational Advancement Center bridge the medical and biopsychosocial models of care, offering a truly remarkable and one-of-a-kind space for growth.
If you would like to be a part of our amazing story, if you want more information about how to donate or volunteer, or if you wish to come take a tour and see how 21st century creative, empirically-informed care for pediatric cancer patients and their families looks, please be in touch at 423.243.3471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wiener, L., Kazak, A. E., Noll, R. B., Patenaude, A. F. and Kupst, M. J. (2015). Standards for the psychosocial care of children with cancer and their families: An introduction to the special issue. Pediatric Blood & Cancer, 62: S419–S424. doi:10.1002/pbc.25675
Walsh, L.S., Noll, R.B., Annett, R.D., Patel, S.K., Patenaude, A.F., and Embry, L. Standard of care for neuropsychological monitoring in pediatric neuro-oncology: Lessons from the Children’s Oncology Group (COG). Pediatric Blood & Cancer, 62: S460–S513. doi:10.1002/pbc.25675