Sometimes medicine doesn’t look like medicine. For pediatric cancer and blood disorder patients at Levine Children’s, it can look like art, music or even Reiki.

Child Health | 3 years ago

Creative Tools to Help Kids with Cancer

Art. Music. Reiki. When helping children cope with cancer treatments, Levine Children’s embraces innovative – and fun – healing tools.

Chemotherapy days can be rough days. Nic Crawford, 15 – who was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma last April – felt wiped out after his treatments. Chemo mornings usually meant long afternoon naps, which were often followed by evenings of nausea. To help, Javier Oesterheld, MD – the specialty medical director of pediatric hematology, oncology and bone and marrow transplant at Atrium Health Levine Children’s and Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation Endowed Chair for cancer and blood disorders – introduced Nic to an unusual form of treatment: Reiki.

Reiki may seem like it has nothing to do with cancer. It’s a century-old Japanese healing technique in which a practitioner lays hands gently on a patient, and recent studies have found that it can alleviate side effects of cancer treatments. Nic didn’t need a study to tell him it helps, however; he experienced the benefits firsthand. On the days when Nic followed his chemo treatments with Reiki, he didn’t need that afternoon nap. He didn’t feel sick that evening. Reiki even soothed the pain Nic experienced after radiation. This old technique has become an emerging tool of supportive oncology.

“Reiki is like a recharging of your battery,” Nic says. “It’s extremely, extremely calming.”

Neither Nic nor his mom Michelle had heard of Reiki before Dr. Oesterheld’s recommendation, and they’re not exactly sure why it works. But both recommend it to families as a tool to help pediatric oncology patients deal with treatments.

“Every tool you can use to relax your child is only going to benefit them. There’s no downside,” Michelle says. “I think the mind plays a huge role in healing, and when the patient can be relaxed, then everything gets better.”

Jennifer Pope, MD, director of supportive medicine at Levine Children’s, says that the hospital’s two Reiki masters have performed nearly 3,000 Reiki treatments on patients. Dr. Pope has seen one mother moved to tears when she saw the difference the treatments made on her child.

“It's really, really fun to offer things other than medicine to our patients,” Dr. Pope says.

Better Outcomes, Shorter Hospital Stays

Reiki is just one supportive oncology treatment that Levine Children’s offers cancer and blood disorder patients. Children also find coping tools in music, art, movement and nutritious eating. The hospital embraces a diverse range of evidence-based therapies to help patients cope with the pain and stress associated with treatments and to help them thrive as survivors. Levine Children’s is the only pediatric cancer care center in the region that provides supportive medicine.

“There's an old saying that says it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a really amazing village to get a child through cancer therapy,” Dr. Pope says. Her team includes psychotherapists, dietitians, art teachers, music therapists and Reiki masters. “When we’re able to help kids process their emotions, eat well and move their bodies throughout their treatments, it absolutely impacts their outcomes. They spend less time in the hospital.”

Kahlil Washington, 9, spent 45 days at Levine Children’s Hospital last summer for a bone marrow transplant to cure his sickle cell disease. Art teachers from the hospital’s Arts for Life program dropped by his room almost every day to create crafts with him. A child life specialist visited regularly to challenge him to games of chess. These moments not only gave Kahlil moments of play, but they helped him express his emotions, too. He loved to draw faces, all kinds of happy faces. During one visit with an art teacher, as Kahlil struggled with a bad reaction to his medicine, he drew sad faces with tears – even while he didn’t want to tell anyone he was having a hard day. Kahlil got to tell them in his own way through art.

“The Arts for Life program and all of the child life specialists touched Kahlil’s life and our family’s life over those six weeks in the hospital. They made it bearable, and they made it a little fun,” his mom Mili says. “What they do is so important to these kids. What this program did for Kahlil is what made the difference in his experience. They gave us a bright spot in every day. And that's something we'll always take with us.”

Community giving has boosted the power of Levine Children’s supportive oncology programs, with Martin Truex Jr. Foundation and 24 Foundation leading the way. Such generosity allows kids like Nic and Kahlil to enjoy truly comprehensive care at Levine Children’s – not just in the treatment of cancer and blood disorders, but in the healing of mind, body and spirit, too.

A Lifetime of Support for Pediatric Cancer Survivors

Supportive oncology isn’t just for pediatric patients, however. Patients at Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute enjoy adult supportive oncology programs, and the team at Levine Children’s Hospital has created a bridge to those offerings through an adult survivors’ pediatric cancer program. There, pediatric cancer survivors can continue to pursue options like yoga, tai chi, writing groups, acupuncture and music therapy.

“We can literally take care of a patient from the second they are diagnosed with cancer all the way through their life,” Dr. Pope says. “And that, to me, is an amazing win.”

It’s a win for parents like Michelle, too.

“I can’t sing praises enough for Levine Children’s in this aspect,” Michelle says. “When getting your child’s diagnosis, it’s scary to think about what you’re jumping into. But seeing how they treat the child as a whole person helps so much. We’ve haven’t experienced anything but warmth and kindness here, and we appreciate that they’re open to look at healing from multiple angles.”

Learn More About Supportive Oncology

All cancer survivors are welcome to receive supportive oncology services at Levine Children’s Hospital and Levine Cancer Institute, regardless of their age and where they received their cancer treatments.

“You can be any age. If you were a childhood cancer survivor at all, we would love to take care of you and support you to make sure that you're the happiest, healthiest, most successful person that you can be,” Dr. Pope says. To learn more, please call 704-381-9900.