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The following article includes references to palliative care and the death of children and young people as a consequence of childhood cancer. We understand some readers may find it difficult or upsetting to read but we feel it is an important area to discuss. Please bear this in mind before reading the article. Thank you.

Can you tell us a bit more about your role at the Great North Children’s Hospital?


I’m one of the Children and Young Person Oncology Outreach Specialists (CYPOONS) and we have a dual role at the Great North Children’s Hospital. As a key worker we facilitate all appointments and help families understand where they need to be, what to expect, and guide them in the right direction.

The other part of our job, and the main part of our job, is providing palliative care to families. We’re here to make sure families are supported, symptoms are managed, and to help young people die where they want to. As a team we cover the whole of the North East and Cumbria, and that 24/7 care makes a real difference. We get to know families really well and we can be on hand when they need us.

We often say we’re the family people never want. We’re a close-knit team and we work really well together. We care deeply about the families we look after.

Have you always worked in oncology?


I’ve been a qualified nurse for 19 years and I’ve worked in oncology for 17 of those. I started my nursing career working with brain and spinal patients at the Newcastle General Hospital but after doing a rotation I decided I wanted to focus on oncology. I’ve been in my current role for 10 years and I still love it.

What does a typical day look like for you?


The only thing you can say about our role is that there is no typical day. We do a lot of planning to make sure the care team is available for families, but palliative patients in need of our help become the priority. As key workers we might be in clinic, attending appointments with families, or helping deal with any other issues people might be experiencing. No two days are the same but we’re always here to deal with whatever happens.

You have to be able to cope with the sadness in this job. It’s important to have the right mindset and coping mechanisms.

People don’t want to think about children having cancer, or dying from cancer, but it’s the reality for a lot of families. We see over 100 patients every year and on average there are 20 deaths a year; each one is too many, and each one is felt deeply. It’s a privilege to care for the children and young people on our wards and make sure they get the care they deserve.

How does Children’s Cancer North support the work you do?


Treatment can last for weeks, months or years, and they can feel like very long days. Children’s Cancer North fund a lot of the social activities on the wards, including Tom the animator, day trips for teenagers, the bell ringing at end of treatment, and birthday celebrations. There are a lot of activities to keep children and young people busy and entertained whilst they’re going through treatment and we wouldn’t have those if it weren’t for Children’s Cancer North.

On the palliative side, the charity helps deliver the annual Memory Day; an afternoon for families that remembers children and young people that have died as a consequence of cancer. We have a non-religious ceremony, a reading, and a huge bubble release. It’s a chance for families to be with people that have been through the same thing as them, and to see the staff from the Great North Children’s Hospital that helped care for them. That can be very important for some families and we always have a good level of attendance.

Something else that’s really important but not often talked about; cancer is expensive on families. It can involve a lot of travel, food costs, and accommodation expenses. The cost of living becomes huge. Whilst no family wants this, Children’s Cancer North does provide a Bereavement Grant to support families when a child dies.

It means families don’t have to worry about paying the mortgage that month, or taking care of a utility bill, for example.

What do you love most about your job?


I love the fact we’re here for people, and that we care deeply about them. It’s a real privilege to be able to care for and really love the families we meet. We’re able to give people quality time with their loved ones.

Why should people support the work of Children’s Cancer North?


Because it’s a regional charity that makes a real difference to the lives of children, young people, and families right across the North East and Cumbria. We see the positive impact on a daily basis.

People might not want to think about children getting cancer but they exist and they are here at the Great North Children’s Hospital. These children and young people matter.

Don’t wait for it to happen to someone you know before taking action. Children’s Cancer North is a really important charity.

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