UW Health: Psychologist stresses importance of mental health in pediatric cancer care

MADISON, Wis. – Today is International Childhood Cancer Day, and an expert from UW Health Kids shares her perspective on the importance of mental health throughout the childhood cancer care journey a family.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, hundreds of children are diagnosed with cancer each year in Wisconsin, and there are many needs associated with it, from treatment options to support services.

For those diagnosed and treated at American Family Children’s Hospital, mental health support is integrated into the patient’s care team, according to Stephanie Farrell, PhD, pediatric health psychologist, UW Health Kids.

“We are here to support families through diagnosis and treatment,” she said. “We listen to them and create a safe space for them to process the medical trauma they are enduring.”

Farrell notes how the pandemic has made an already difficult situation like a cancer diagnosis for a child.

“Many of these children become immunocompromised, which makes COVID-19 even more worrisome for families,” she said. “The pandemic has also been quite isolating, and a loved ones support system is so important for those going through cancer treatment.”

Farrell said she and her colleagues are happy to resume in-person care for patients in the summer of 2020 after just a few months of virtual care because despite the PPE they have to wear, they can still connect with families in the room.

Farrell works with dozens of families every year, some for long periods of time. She sees the many challenges families face but also their incredible resilience.

“It’s humbling and inspiring. Any advice I could give comes from what these families have taught me over the years,” she said. “Take it one day at a time, be hopeful, and find small things to celebrate or be grateful for in the midst of the unthinkable.”

A pre-recorded interview with Farrell is available.

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