“I didn’t know how to tell them:” Program helps parents share with their kids life-changing diagnoses

MILWAUKEE -- When a parent or other adult in a child's life gets a scary diagnosis like cancer, it can be difficult for the child to grasp what is happening. It might also be hard for the adult to know what to say to the child. However, there is a local program hoping to help clear up misconceptions and offer support.

When a parent or other adult in a child’s life gets a scary diagnosis, like cancer, it can be difficult for the child to grasp what’s happening.
It might also be hard for the adult to know what to say to the child. A local program called Child Life Services is hoping to help clear up misconceptions and offer support.

Amy Woyak

Amy Woyak was just 38 years old when she was diagnosed with Mantle Cell Lymphoma, a blood cancer. As a wife and mother of four kids ranging in age from five to 17, Amy wasn’t the only one who had to process the news.

“It was scary,” Woyak said. “I didn’t know how to tell them. I try to be very strong.”

In the weeks following her diagnosis, Amy began treatment that included high-dose chemo.

It was during one of those chemo sessions that Amy met Heidi, a child life specialist with Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

“We really believe that the more kids know, the better they do. Although families aren’t having those conversations, it doesn’t mean kids aren’t thinking about it and it doesn’t mean that kids don’t have questions,” said Heidi Miranda.

Heidi Miranda

Because of hospital policy, the five-year-old and 11-year-old couldn’t visit Amy during her recovery, but that didn’t mean those two weren’t connected to their mom while she was away.

Before Amy went into the hospital, Heidi helped the two kids decorate cloth dolls. They also made different things to decorate Amy’s room so they felt like they had a role in their mom’s care by keeping connected with their mom.

“Having them to step in in-between that and help them understand what was going to happen and where I was going to be, and that I still love them and I wasn’t leave them, was huge,” said Woyak. “I could worry more about where I needed to be and I didn’t have to worry about how they were feeling and if they understood what was going on.”

Woyak says Child Life Services was able to help make the transition into her transplant much smoother. She didn’t know how her kids felt, but with them being able to talk to Heidi, it made the transition and healing easier for everyone. Woyak says Heidi was able to give the kids the understanding they needed to just keep going and not be scared.