I’ve lived my life as one affected by childhood cancer, and I’ve spent my professional life serving as a pediatric oncology nurse practitioner which means that part of my responsibilities have always included delivering diagnoses to children and their families. Delivery of such news is not a skill that is taught and perfected with practice. No, it is an art, a gift to be cultivated, refined, protected as it becomes a pillar of strength upon which these families lean upon as their knees buckle beneath them.
Stephie’s Rules [of] Engagement:
Rule #1: Establish the provider-patient/family relationship on truth; families MUST be able to trust you if they are to entrust their child to you
Rule #2: Acknowledge their fears [and] communicate the possibility of cancer with great compassion
Rule #3: Block your time [and] give the family your undivided attention: silence your pager [and] do everything within your power to prevent interruptions
Rule #4: NEVER walk in without a plan for what comes next; provide them with that plan in writing; these are anchor points to help keep them grounded amidst the devastation [and] chaos
Rule #5: Acknowledge how difficult it is to wait; check in on them throughout the day; inform them of delays
Rule #6: Answer their questions [and] provide them with a notepad to write questions that arise after you leave; answer the same question as if it is the first time they have asked it
Rule #7: Bring kleenex [and] allow for, do not fear silence; be present with them
Rule #8: After sharing the diagnosis with the parents and their child, outline the plan of action addressing the treatment plan [and] what needs to be done to prepare their child to start therapy
Rule #9: Always be mindful that grief descended upon them as you confirmed their worst nightmare; know your resources [Child LIFE, Social Work, Grief Counselors] and get them involved sooner rather than later
Rule #10: Begin with end in mind [a healthy, well-adjusted, self-sufficient adult] by planting [and] cultivating seeds of HOPE, FUTURE across the cancer trajectory
Delivering news of a life-threatening illness is never easy nor is it a rote script that you memorize from a textbook then apply to every child/family you encounter rather it is an art, developed and refined by clinical experience. Each child and family is unique; therefore, providers would do well to become students of them, their family dynamic, individual [and] collective ability to cope, so on [and] so forth, in order to best meet their needs across time.
The delivery of a devastating medical diagnosis is to be handled with the utmost of humility, an overabundance of compassion, and a spirit capable of appreciating the salt of each tear shed committed to not one tear ever touching the floor for each one is sacred.
She has been a cancer patient, survivor, heart transplant recipient and documentary film producer.
As a child, she was successfully treated for Ewing’s Sarcoma. Her experience led her to become a nurse serving the physical, psychosocial, and educational needs of children, adolescents, and their families along the cancer trajectory.
Stephanie holds a B.A. in Psychology from Furman University, and a B.S., and M.S in Nursing from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Florida. At Dartmouth, Stephanie helped establish the Survivorship Clinic with Eric Larsen, MD and Sara Chaffee, MD. This clinic provided ongoing personal support and education for childhood cancer survivors and their families.
In April 2008, Stephanie’s heart failed as a result of the radiation and Doxorubicin used to cure her Ewing’s Sarcoma as a child. She received a heart transplant at the Cleveland Clinic.
As a result of this experience, she co-produced an award winning documentary ‘Resilient: the Story of Late Effects of Cancer Treatment’, highlighting the challenges faced by survivors, families, and friends.
Stephanie resides in the metro Atlanta area with her husband and their 12-year-old-son. The Zimmermans enjoy everything from Formula One Racing and college & NFL football to go carting, ziplining, and cycling.
Please feel free to contact Stephanie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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