Childhood cancer: supporting the child and his/her loved ones

Despite therapeutic progress, cancer continues to be a deeply troubling experience for young people and their parents, both psychologically and existentially. The lives of these children are turned upside down, and they require psychological support. Interview with Dr Etienne Seigneur, pediatric psychiatrist.

Is the psychological[GC1]  support provided to children different from that received by an adult?

Yes, since it is vital that the parents and siblings be included in the psychological support. One of the special features of this care lies in the importance of follow-up in the wake of the diagnosis, follow-up that is sometimes very far removed from the disease and its treatments. Furthermore, children are in the process of developing. For this reason, we need to be very attentive to ensure that, in addition to providing psychological support, this development continues as “normally” as possible in spite of the disease. Our role involves helping the care team to oversee the multi-disciplinary well-being of the child through various meetings and summaries.


At what point is the issue of this support raised?

This psychological support is not reserved for children or families experiencing difficulties in managing the disease, but is systematically offered when the patient arrives in the department, following delivery of the diagnosis. We therefore meet with all children and their families to offer them an interview to discuss the diagnosis of the disease, the organization of treatment and the follow-up needed.


Do you address specific points?

At Institut Curie, we have developed a special framework of care for adolescents and young people suffering from cancer. As such, we have studied the issue of fertility. Protecting fertility is crucial. For this reason we have taken part in the design of a brochure, “Le Cecos, c’est quoi?” (1) (“All about Cecos” – the center for the study and preservation of human eggs and sperm.) This brochure is intended to improve information for children and their parents and to help them make decisions about sperm freezing, thus improving care practices in this important but sensitive field.


Supporting the child and his/her loved ones

A cancer diagnosis for a child is a traumatic event for the whole family. It is important, however, that the child continue to live like other children. The entire care team at Institut Curie strives to offer sick children a living environment that is as close as possible to their usual one. The child’s habits, and those of the family, are maintained, even during treatment. The presence of the parents, contact with the outside world, leisure activities (TV, Internet, the participation of charities and cultural bodies), and keeping up with schoolwork, even in the hospital, all help in maintaining quality of life.

Bi-weekly art activities, writing workshops, clowns and music, as well as a play area, all run by a group of facilitators, are offered to children. “The main aim is to improve their quality of life by developing their creativity, a source of relief and pleasure. Creative acts are in themselves therapeutic, in my view,” explains Elodie Thébault, an artist in charge of the art workshops.

Academic schooling involves a class devised by teachers from the French national education system and conducted by volunteer teachers. The pace of schoolwork takes into account the treatment regimen and the child’s state of health.

Despite therapeutic progress, cancer continues to be a deeply troubling experience for young people and their parents, both psychologically and existentially. The situation of these children, whose lives are turned upside down, requires psychological support, provided by a multi-disciplinary team that includes a social worker for assistance with formalities, psychologists, a pediatric psychiatrist and a psychomotor therapist. The presence of the families is vital and is facilitated by the “Maison des parents,” which offers the families of children hospitalized at Institut Curie, as well as children receiving outpatient care, a comfortable place to stay.