Prof Claire Wakefield is helping children with cancer and their families, ‘traverse the really scary, difficult time that is cancer treatment’

Professor Claire Wakefield leads one of Australia’s largest psycho-oncology research groups that is working towards improving the quality of life of families with children who have been diagnosed with cancer.

Prof Wakefield is head of the behavioural sciences unit for the Kids Cancer Centre at the Sydney Children’s Hospital.

She explains, “nobody wants to hear the words your child has cancer.”

The Behavioural Sciences Unit research team. Photo credit: Claire Wakefield

Across the globe, over 300,000 children will be diagnosed with cancer each year. Cancer is second only to motor vehicle accidents for the leading cause of child deaths. These figures are undoubtedly shocking and upsetting, as it can be hard to comprehend a child going through such agony and emotional turmoil.

WHO visit
Prof Wakefield during her visit to the World Health Organization. Photo credit: Claire Wakefield

Unfortunately, it is not only the child patient who feels the effect of a cancer diagnosis.

As Wakefield states, ‘it’s the beginning of a really long journey, not just for the child but also for the parents, brothers and sisters’.

It is not just a patient who feels trauma from a cancer diagnosis, as their close family also feel psychological distress.

Wakefield identified the negative effects cancer can have on a family unit and brought together a research group of psycho-oncologists, to help families ‘traverse the really scary, difficult time that is cancer treatment.’ She explains, ‘we’re a growing group of researchers all working towards improving outcomes for families with kids with cancer.’

Prof Wakefield giving a talk at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Photo credit: Claire Wakefield

Wakefield draws on both her psychology and oncology expertise to help families feel emotionally and physically in control when faced with a cancer diagnosis. Her team focus on bringing a sense of control back to families as when asked how parents feel when their child has been diagnosed with cancer.

Photo credit: Claire Wakefield

Through her research, Wakefield has found evidence that suggests, ‘without support, both patients, parents and brothers and sisters can develop anxiety, depression and PTSD’ relating to a cancer diagnosis. She further explains that, ‘our work tries to prevent those outcomes.’

tweet-graphic-transTweet: Families are surprised about just how much strength they have. —Prof Claire Wakefield, psycho-oncologist

Virtual reality can have benefits on the emotional health of children with cancer through guided imagery. Photo credit: Claire Wakefield

The link between cancer and depression, and other mood-altering disorders, is undeniably strong. Wakefield’s work is focused on helping families to function as normally and happily as possible whilst dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

I asked Prof Wakefield how she handles working in child cancer researcher.

‘It’s certainly not always easy, the work that we do, but I never ever question that it’s not worthwhile,’ says Prof Wakefield.

Therapy dogs visit the Behavioural Sciences Unit. Photo credit: Claire Wakefield

While we can’t change the cards we have been dealt in life, we can use what we already have and further nourish that to live a meaningful, purposeful and impactful life.


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