Saturday, February 13, 2016

Helping families cope with psychological side of cancer

Hello. My name is Dr. Lamia Barakat. I'm director of psychosocial services in oncology and a psychologist in the Children's Cancer Center.

Helping families cope with psychological side of cancer

Hello. My name is Dr. Lamia Barakat. I’m director of psychosocial services in oncology and a psychologist in the Children’s Cancer Center.

In Rachel’s posts, she’s introduced you to some of the members of our team (Brittany, her child life specialist, and Jamie, her hospital school teacher). I thought I’d chime in to give you more information about who we are and what we do to support children with cancer and their families.

The psychosocial team has social workers, child life specialists, and child activity coordinators, art and music therapists, hospital school teachers, and psychologists. We work with the medical team to help children and their families adapt to cancer and its treatment. Our job is to provide direct services, educational materials, and special programs. We support families in better understanding what to expect during cancer treatment, learning ways to use their resources, using positive coping, accessing their social supports, and keeping ‘normal’ routines and activities a person their age would usually keep (like playing and going to school).

Diagnosis of cancer in a child is one of the most difficult experiences a family can face. All families experience distress at the time of diagnosis and when treatment starts. The good news is that most families adapt well over time. Children and families respond differently to this experience based on the resources they have to help them through, other stresses they experienced before and during cancer treatment, and aspects of the cancer and its treatment.

Because all families experience distress, all newly diagnosed children receive child life and social work services as well as educational handouts/materials, support groups, school in the hospital and family web-based resources. Our team addresses questions such as:

- “How can I help my child understand why he/she does not feel good, what cancer is, and why treatment is needed?”

- “How can I help my child adjust to being away from friends and school?”

- “My child has been so sad and scared. How can we help?”

- “Are there financial resources available to help with medical and other bills?”

- “How can we support the child’s siblings who are feeling frightened and worried?”

To match the needs of each family, we have additional supports available including medical play and preparation for procedures, creative arts therapies, an education liaison to help with school reentry, neurocognitive assessments, and psychology services. We are also working to build specially designed programs to meet the needs of groups such as siblings and our adolescent and young adult patients.

You can learn more about the services and programs offered at CHOP at:

We wish Rachel and her family the best as she continues on this cancer journey.


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About this blog
Rachel Kovach, 12, is a seventh-grader at Mother Theresa Regional School in Atlantic Highlands, N.J. She lives in Highlands, N.J., near the Sandy Hook national seashore, with her parents, Mari and Kurt Kovach.

Since first grade, Rachel has been swimming with the Monmouth Barracudas, a year-round competitive United States Swimming Club program. She hopes to continue competitive swimming after her cancer treatment; if not, she envisions coaching someday or maybe a career in medicine. Figure skating and jazz dancing have been big parts of her life. One of the things she hates about being in the hospital is missing her dog Cocoa and her many friends.

Rachel's doctors

These are the key physicians overseeing Rachel’s care at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia:

Naomi BalamuthNaomi Balamuth, pediatric oncologist, specializes in treating pediatric sarcomas, a subset of solid tumors.



Richard B. WomerRichard B. Womer, pediatric oncologist, led studies of the latest chemotherapy treatment protocol for Ewing’s sarcoma.



John P. DormansJohn P. Dormans, M.D., chief of orthopaedic surgery, is an international expert in the surgical treatment of musculoskeletal tumors.


Timeline of Rachel Kovach’s Treatment

Dec. 3, 2010: Pain in Rachel's right knee is initially diagnosed as tendinitis.

Jan. 20: An MRI reveals a tumor in right leg.

Jan 24: Rachel sees John Dormans, chief of orthopedic surgery at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Jan. 27: A biopsy confirms Ewing's sarcoma.

February to mid-April: Regimens of chemotherapy alternate every other week. The three-drug regimen is given over two days; the two-drug regimen is given over five days.

May 3: Surgery replaces most of the right femur with a prosthesis.

May 5: A Children's Hospital team will help Rachel get out of bed.

May 10 to September: Alternating regimens of chemotherapy are to resume.

Around May 10: Physical therapy will begin in the hospital and continue for at least several months after Rachel goes home.

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