Therapists help patients fight the hidden wounds of cancer

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Mental health therapists are helpful for families dealing with a child who has cancer. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Mental health therapists are helpful for families dealing with a child who has cancer. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Hamblins salary is provided by Children's Cancer Network. And you can help. That group benefits directly from Grand Canyon University's Run to Fight Children's Cancer. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Hamblins salary is provided by Children's Cancer Network. And you can help. That group benefits directly from Grand Canyon University's Run to Fight Children's Cancer. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

For 12-year-old Emma Kerr, a trip to the hospital for valley fever, one year into treatment for leukemia, is a vague memory.

“I think it was just a blur most of the time,” she remembers.

But for her mother Ildi it is a time forever etched in her memory. 

“There is nothing scarier than seeing a group of doctors and in their faces, you can see they are afraid,” she says of one morning when she walked into Emma’s room. “And with this case with valley fever, with the cancer as an underlying condition, it was truly a few days we thought we might lose her, and just no parents should have to have those conversations.” 

[RELATED: Doctors face challenges getting clinical trials for children with cancer]

Mental health therapist and licensed clinical social worker, Jennifer Hamblin, says those are some of the invisible wounds cancer inflicts on patients and their families. 

“We see a lot of anxiety, depression, grief and grieving. And some PTSD a lot of times and I think that happens a lot of times because parents are being subjected to all of these things. And they are there witnessing it all first hand,” Hamblin said.

Those are emotions Ildi knows well.

“Because when you are making decisions for your child, it really puts you in a position, of what would they want, what kind of life would they want would they be angry with you for making a decision that might of limited their abilities or capabilities down the road,” Ildi said. 

For Emma, it was a different set of emotions. 

“I was feeling isolated like no one knew me anymore. When I was in the hospital,” Emma said.

Hamblin says for nearly all there is a sense of grief and loss. 

“And this is the loss of a normal healthy childhood and a loss of independence and a loss of many different things,” Hamblin said.

But until recently, those wounds often went untreated as doctors focused on the physical. 

“For so long the focus has been on the physical, because that is what we see. We see the hair-loss. We see the weight loss. We see weight gain or whatever. We see surgeries and radiation and we are so focused on healing the physical, that the emotional coping has been overlooked," Hamblin said.

But thanks to funds from Children's Cancer Network, Hamblin is now part of the team at Phoenix Children's Hospital providing mental health services to patients and families.  

[RELATED: Mother and daughter fight cancer together]

“And it is like focusing on this is what we are doing, and this is temporary and this is our goal, and you will get back to this and we will get you healthy,” she says.

And for the Kerrs, it was the best medicine in their battle against cancer.

“There is no way we would have been able to navigate those emotions and concerns without experts and professionals in the room,” says Ildi.

Emma, who is now finished with chemo and getting back to normal, sums it up like this. 

“And you feel like you can do pretty much anything," Emma said.

Hamblin’s salary is provided by Children’s Cancer Network. And you can help. That group benefits directly from Grand Canyon University’s Run to Fight Children’s Cancer.

That race is this Saturday, March 11 at GCU starting at 7 a.m. There is a 5K, 10K, and cancer survivor’s walk, along with lots of other activities.  You can find full information here: http://runtofightcancer.com/charities/phoenix-childrens-hospital/

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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