Breaking the News: How Katie Clarke Told Her Children About Her Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Tuesday, October 29, 2013 12:20 PM comments (0)

Katie Clarke was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. She underwent a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction at NorthShore Glenbrook Hospital, followed by four months of chemotherapy and a year-long course of Herceptin treatments at Evanston Hospital. 

Before her own diagnosis, and in memory of her best friend who lost her own life to the disease in 2006, Katie and her family would make a point of cheering on the participants of the three-day breast cancer walk in Chicago armed with motivational signs and licorice. This, and her own breast cancer journey, would later inspire Katie and her sister to found The Licorice Project, an organization devoted to spreading joy during a difficult time and bringing together breast cancer patients, survivors, families and friends. 

In part two of her NorthShore patient story, Katie shares one of the most difficult but important moments following her breast cancer diagnosis:

Katie ClarkeI’m often asked, “How and when did you tell your kids you had breast cancer?” My husband and I agreed that we wanted to be open and truthful about everything as soon as my diagnosis was confirmed. We turned to my breast surgeon, Dr. Winchester at NorthShore University HealthSystem, for advice on what to say to our three middle school-aged boys. We planned a family meeting and decided that I would do the talking.

I began the conversation by telling them that I’d found a lump in my chest, to which my youngest shouted, “You’re pregnant!?” When I said, “No,” he answered, “Phew!” I told them that the lump was in my breast and they wanted to know immediately if it was cancer. When I said that it was, they all began to cry. It broke my heart to see them so sad and frightened. Holding their hands, I assured them that the doctors were very encouraged and had given me a good prognosis since the lump was very small and I had caught it early. I explained to them that there would be many steps, tests and procedures. I explained that it would take time and patience but that when I finished the therapy, I would be okay. Of course, many questions followed:

“Are you going to die?”
“Will you lose your hair?”
“Will you get a wig?”
“Who knows about this already?”
“Can we tell people?”
“What should we say?”
“Does this mean we can get breast cancer?”
“Are people going to bring us dinners?”

My husband and I answered the questions as best as we could, which, of course, led to even more questions. Since school was about to end for summer vacation, we assured the boys that all their summer plans would stay intact. We wanted to keep their lives as “normal” as possible. The family meeting concluded with lots of hugs and kisses.

Telling our children that I had cancer was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do; however, it was also one of my proudest moments because of the strength and composure that I maintained during such a difficult conversation. There’s no right or wrong way to explain a cancer diagnosis to children. Each family will deal with it in their own unique way and to the best of their ability.

 

Proper Dosage: Medication and Children

Friday, March 15, 2013 10:48 AM comments (0)

Peds-DosageWhen children get sick, the simple solution isn’t always just a pill or spoonful away. Aside from the fact that many medications are not recommended for children, it's also much easier for a child to overdose on medication than an adult.

In most cases, the amount of medicine a child should receive is determined by age, weight and height. When it comes to children and medication, reading labels is very important.

Dirk Killelea, Manager of NorthShore Evanston Hospital Pharmacy, shares the following “must-know” tips for giving children medications:

  • Do not give your child a reduced dosage of a medication meant for adults. Most medicine labels provide a recommended dosage that is based on age. If your child’s age isn’t reflected on this label, then it is not appropriate to give to him or her. Even liquid medication for infants is more concentrated than liquid medication meant for older children. When in doubt, ask your pharmacist or physician.
  • Avoid giving your child over-the-counter cold medicine. Cold medicine should definitely be avoided in children under the age of two, and the same may also be true for older children. These medications can cause more harm than good, and home remedies--humidifier, steam baths and elevation--may prove more effective.
  • Steer clear of some medications. Unless otherwise instructed by a physician, avoid giving children Aspirin, over-the-counter laxatives, herbal or natural supplements and expired medications.
  • Use appropriate measuring devices. Don’t use a household teaspoon or tablespoon to measure doses of liquid medication.  Ask your pharmacy for an oral syringe or graduated measuring spoon. These devices measure the appropriate amount of medication and don’t vary in size like household silverware.

The best remedy for most kids is rest and hydration. If your child has a fever or cold, keep activities to a minimum and make sure they aren't too strenuous. Coloring, drawing or reading stories is a great way to spend time until he or she feels better. If your child is experiencing loose stools or diarrhea, make sure to provide plenty of water or electrolyte-containing drinks like Pedialyte to prevent dehydration.   

How do you manage your kids’ illnesses? What remedies work best for you?

 

Don’t Sleep through the Signs: Recognizing Sleep Disorders in Children

Friday, March 08, 2013 11:00 AM comments (0)

pediatric-sleep-disordersA good night’s sleep can be the difference between night and day with children. Frequent lack of sleep can greatly impact a child’s physical, mental and social well-being. It's also hard on the entire family.

It's recommended that children between the ages of six and twelve get 10-11 hours of sleep each night. This allows them to be better rested for school, and to further their growth and development. The challenge with childhood sleep disorders is that they aren’t always easy to recognize. In fact, since the symptoms are so similar to other conditions (such as ADD and ADHD), sleep disorders often go misdiagnosed.

Mari Viola-Saltzman, DO, Sleep Medicine specialist, who sees both pediatric and adult patients, identifies some of the secondary effects childhood sleep disorders may have:

  • Lack of focus in school work. This may lead to poor performance, impaired learning/memory and an inability to concentrate on academic tasks.
  • Short temper and moodiness. Children may not “act like themselves” if they are not getting enough sleep. This can often be misidentified as a behavioral problem or depression.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness. Children with sleeping disorders often have a more difficult time sleeping through the night, which can lead to drowsiness during the day and also slower reaction times to daytime activities.
  • Appetite and metabolic changes. Studies have indicated that sleep disorders in children may cause obesity, likely due to sleep deprivation affecting the part of the brain called the hypothalamus that regulates hormonal changes, metabolism, hunger and energy expenditures.

How many hours of sleep do your children get each night? Do they have a nightly routine?

 

Guide to Buying and Giving Age-Appropriate Toys

Thursday, December 06, 2012 5:37 PM comments (0)

Now is the time when our shopping lists for holiday giving may include items for children of varying ages. While walking through the aisles, you’ll see plenty of new toys along with many of the tried-and-true classics (like building blocks and dolls). With all the options out there, how do you know which toys are best suited for what ages?

The most colorful or cute toy on the shelf doesn’t always make it the best choice. It’s worthwhile to recognize that children of varying ages have achieved different development milestones.  Just as you wouldn’t give an infant a LEGO® set, you also wouldn’t buy a four year old a teething rattle.

Kenneth Fox, MD, a pediatrician at NorthShore, gives the following recommendations when shopping for age-appropriate toys:

  • Safety first. Choose sturdy toys with washable surfaces. Watch out for small parts, sharp points or edges. Make sure attached pieces (eyes, buttons, etc.) cannot be torn or bitten off to create choking hazards. Avoid toys made of or decorated with toxic substances or chemicals (paints, dyes, glazes or other embellishments). As much as possible, try to understand where toys or other gifts are made and avoid untrustworthy sources even if they appear to be bargains. Make certain batteries are not accessible to curious and nimble little hands and mouths. Battery- or electric-powered toys should be  labeled “UL approved.” For more detailed information on specific toys consult Consumer Protection Safety Commission website (www.CPSC.gov).
  • Read the packaging information. Most toys include a recommended age on the packaging. These labels, based on a typical child’s abilities and skills at a particular age, should serve as guidelines. But remember, every child is different and develops at his own pace. Ask yourself the basic question: “Is this toy right for this particular child, given his particular developmental stage?”
  • Resist buying toys that a child can “grow into”. Age guidelines on toys exist for a reason. As nice as it may be to stock up on new toys for the growing child, it’s often hard to keep these toys out of reach until they are age appropriate.
  • Choose usefulness over fad, “must-have” toys. Every year there are countless new toy trends and gimmicks. It often is best to stick to options that have been around long enough to be dependable and tested. The best, most fun toys often have an unstructured aspect. They invite and engage the child’s imagination and creativity.
  • Kids learn a lot both by receiving and by giving. Basic capacities for empathy emerge in childhood through experiences with gift exchange and through symbolic play. Kids learn to be generous givers and gracious receivers of gifts through practice, guided by caring adults. From choosing, wrapping and presenting gifts to others, a capacity for empathy is nurtured, supported and reinforced. Also, modeling how to show one’s appreciation is a great gift in itself. “Thank you” goes a long way, even in today’s world of rampant consumerism.
  • Set limits on gifts and keep things simple. How often have you noticed that young children are often more entertained by gift wrapping and packages—like big empty boxes—for creative play? Art supplies are often the most treasured, enduring and useful gifts.
  • As much as possible, try to connect a gift with an experience. For example, handmade or homemade gifts or cards in which the child participates creatively make for heartfelt and memorable experiences. A book about or memento of a particular activity, thing or place that a child can then have direct experience with in a hands-on way, makes for a wonderful, cherished gift.

Play is essential to a child’s physical, cognitive, social and moral development. Toys, books and experiences that enrich creative play make wonderful gifts for the season and support healthy child development all year long.

Can you remember a time when one of your children received a toy not well suited for his or her age? What did you do?

Itchy Scalp – Could It Be Lice?

Monday, October 29, 2012 3:24 PM comments (0)

If you’ve had young children, you’ve probably received a note from their teachers or administrators saying that there has been an outbreak of lice at school. Head lice are a very common problem for preschool, kindergarten and elementary students. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 6-12 million infestations occur a year among children ages 3-11.

While typically not known for spreading disease, these parasites can be a nuisance to identify, treat and exterminate. Felissa Kreindler, MD, shares her insight on warning signs for detecting and treating head lice:

 

 

  • Avoid close head-to-head contact whenever possible. This can be done by not sharing hats, personal clothing and hair items, combs and brushes.
  • Stay clear of areas that have recently been infected. Don’t sit on couches and chairs that have been in close contact with someone who has recently had lice. Also be mindful of pillows, blankets, bedding , towels and other items that may have been exposed.
  • Know the symptoms of lice. These include: itching, sores on the head and feelings of something moving through the hair on the head. Combing through your or your child’s hair with a fine- toothed comb may help identify them.
  • Treat the person and the living area. It’s very important not just to treat the person with lice –this can be done with various over-the-counter treatments—but also the areas and items that this person has been in contact with, such as  clothing , bedding and towels listed above. Family members and others should also check for lice and follow similar treatment methods, if needed.

Have you or your kids ever had lice? What did you do to get rid of them?

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