An Unbreakable Bond

A father shares his thanks for the Child Life Program that supported him and his sons when they were dealing with cancer treatment and the passing of a special family member.

Four years ago, my family’s life was turned upside down. After a sleepless night of testing on our 4-year-old, my wife Doretta and I heard from a team of doctors at Children’s Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre that our son Joey had leukemia.

It was devastating news.

As the day unfolded, we were admitted to the hospital’s inpatient floor where we started to meet amazing individuals who demonstrated care and compassion while giving us hope. It was in these moments that we were also introduced to our Child Life Specialist, Deborah. Little did we know at the time the many amazing ways she would support our family through this difficult journey.

From day one, she brought Joey a briefcase full of medical toys that would help him and us understand what the doctors and nurses were doing. She gave him a stuffed doll and showed him where lumbar tests, arm pokes, and his port-o-cath would be. She also sat and played with him while Doretta and I got some much-needed rest.

As the days went on and the routine of hospital life began to form, tragedy hit our family again in an inconceivable way. Through a series of medical issues that arose out of nowhere, concluding with a collapsed airway, Doretta passed away four weeks after Joey’s diagnosis.

The pain, grief, hurt, sorrow, frustration and hopelessness all mounted as I was left with supporting my three sons – all under 12 years old – through their loss and Joey’s treatment. I relied heavily on my faith, my family, my friends, our community and the support and care we received from our new friends at Children's Hospital.

Just days after Doretta's death, we were back at the hospital for a treatment session. Deborah and our health care team offered us much-needed support and comfort. Their presence helped get us through that tough day, and many others since.

The strong bond Joey and Deborah established was evident each time we went to the hospital, and there are so many ways she showed her commitment to him - whether it was with a new toy, extra colouring sheets, prank calling colleagues or sneaking Joey extra syringes for water fights with the nurses.

Joey rarely was seen without a smile on his face, despite all that he was facing. The teams that we were blessed with somehow made it easy to forget why we were there and showed that the life-saving treatment Joey was receiving didn't just come from medicine.

We are grateful that this three-and-a-half-year journey is becoming a memory, as Joey has been off treatment for a year and is doing amazing. He is back in school and enjoying being a normal kid. We now go back to the hospital for check-up days, not treatments because Joey has kicked cancer’s butt!

I don't want to think about where we may have been without the true heroes that we met along the way. In honour of Child Life Month, my family and I want to share our deepest appreciation for Deborah. Thank you for all that you’ve done for our family and many others!


Scott Murray