Seventeen years ago, I decided to make a career change and become a pediatric registered nurse. I invited my boyfriend (now husband) to my apartment and proclaimed that “I needed to talk.” He looked at me skeptically, knowing that those words could potentially be ominous. “Don’t look so serious,” I said. “I just want to change my career, not my love life!” He chuckled out a sigh of relief. But when I asked him seriously what he thought of my idea to switch from a long term goal of athletic therapy into pediatric nursing he simply looked at me and said, “Of course you should do it. You’d be a natural!”
Well, truth be told, some changes in life are in fact a natural shift in a new direction. Others however, are not. Finding out that your child has cancer, is not natural. Feelings of despair, hopelessness, fear, and anger when you hear the “C” word….are natural. Feeling as though life is spiraling out of control right in front of your eyes, also a natural response. Finding the strength to face it with the grace and fortitude you feel the need to show your children, might not be so natural. That’s where the support system comes in. In their eyes, a family’s support can be far and wide, or narrow and very slim. But no family should ever feel as though their access to all forms of support is defined by where they live or who they know. The most difficult thing can just be knowing where to start.
Enter the Pediatric Oncology Patient Navigation Program of New Brunswick. The decision I made to become a pediatric nurse has taken me on many special journeys, but this program will forever hold a special place in my heart. Why? Because each and every day I work with families facing the “C” word. Each patient I have ever cared for has given me something to take with me into the next day of my practice. However, when a parent hears the words “Your child has cancer” those families, those soldiers of CBCs, CT scans, BMTs, and endless roller coasters of physical and emotional wellbeing, they have blessed me with an entirely new perspective. The road to diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship is indeed the road we wish to be less travelled, but when it is…..well….grab the compass!
In New Brunswick we see approximately 20-25 new cases of pediatric cancers each year. Although we have substantial support in our New Brunswick regional hospitals to provide excellent pediatric and specifically pediatric oncology care, our nearest tertiary pediatric specialty center is the IWK Children’s Hospital, located in Nova Scotia. So, navigating the road travelled by a family with a pediatric cancer while living in NB has the potential to be a little complicated. Ideally it is a journey no one will face, for those who do often find themselves buried in physical, financial, emotional and spiritual distress. At the very least, they need a map, a compass, and a warm hug, because a cure for cancer doesn’t exist yet.
One reason I love working in the pediatric field of healthcare is that we all share a common bond of nursing the entire family. The Pediatric Oncology Patient Navigator Program focuses on the needs of each family member. We help families access the resources needed to make their journey a little less stressful.
Having a child in the family with cancer can be very difficult for their sibling(s). Perhaps the sibling does not want to go to school? We do class visits to help make that easier for them, and offer various resources to support them through this journey as well.
When the survivor isn’t sure who to talk to about life after treatment? We can help with that, and remind them of the resources available both here in NB, and at the IWK. Need more information to give to grandparents/friends/employers? We also have some tools for that. And, just when the path to survivorship opens up, so do other considerations, such as university applications or needing accommodations for educational outcomes and employment. Well guess what? The navigators collaborate with the team and the survivor to assist with this as well.
So that is a glimpse of the family support that exists during treatment and beyond, but what about staff supports? We are a one point contact in New Brunswick not only for clinicians here in our province, but also at the IWK. We might not have all the answers for a clinician or a family, but our program can certainly point you in the right direction.
There are two of us working as Pediatric Oncology Patient Navigators in New Brunswick. We are both trained and experienced Pediatric Oncology Nurses, with direct linkages to each Pediatric unit across New Brunswick, as well as to the IWK Hematology Oncology team. When the clinicians of our teams need an extra layer of support, we can step in here as well. We are available to provide education and staff support at any time, and can be called upon as a resource whenever needed.
And, as we all know, not every cancer battle ends with survivorship. However, prognosis aside, there is another team that is dedicated to managing symptoms during the years of treatment and during end-of-life, should the family find themselves facing this journey. The sub-specialty team of Pediatric Palliative Care at the IWK is introduced to each family facing a pediatric cancer diagnosis, regardless of their child’s prognosis; they are an extra layer of support and expertise during the entire battle. If the time comes for end of life care, the Pediatric Palliative Care team is there….and so are we, helping them navigate yet again on a road we certainly hope continues to be the one less travelled.
Marjorie McGibbon obtained her Bachelor of Science in Nursing with Advanced Major from STFX University in 2004. Having always had a passion for working with pediatric populations, she began her career in the pediatric specialty of Oncology/Hematology & Nephrology at the IWK in Halifax. After also spending time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at IWK, she moved with her husband to northern BC where her practice involved community pediatrics, public health, general medical surgical, as well as prenatal educator & breastfeeding support roles. Marjorie is passionate about supporting both families and staff caring for children of all ages with life limiting and life threatening conditions, and has recently become a certified trainer in Education in Palliative and End-Of Life Pediatrics (EPEC-P). Marjorie is the Pediatric Oncology Patient Navigator for Horizon Health Network NB and resides in Petitcodiac, New Brunswick with her husband & two children. A true Maritimer at heart, she is happiest playing in the waves of the Atlantic with her family in the summer months, and enjoys hitting the slopes with them when the snow flies!
Marjorie’s partner, Phyllis Branch can be found at Vitalite Health Network in New Brunswick.