Your frequent questions answered by the experts at Nationwide Children's Hospital

Q: Because it's Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month, I've been thinking a lot about how cancer affects children besides just the physical toll treatment takes on the human body. It's difficult to imagine the emotional stress that these kids have to go through. What other services are out there that help kids be kids, not just patients?

A: For a pediatric-cancer patient, the toll of treatment is monumental. It is imperative that children are not only taken care of physically, but socially and emotionally as well through psychosocial services.

Many hospitals and treatment centers offer psychosocial services - therapies that go beyond traditional medicine. The psychosocial services at Nationwide Children's Hospital employ the skills of music, art, therapeutic recreation and massage therapists, social workers, child life specialists, pastoral care, psychologists and even a school teacher.

Music therapists, as an example, bring in an assortment of musical instruments and play music for patients while encouraging participation. If the patient is shy, the therapist will play and sing to the patient. This is incredibly therapeutic because oftentimes, our patients feel emotions that are difficult to talk through. Music allows them an outlet.

Art therapists will create art with our patients. Therapists encourage patients to create pieces about what they are feeling, their interests and experiences. This is another outlet to express their feelings that may be hard to verbalize.

These therapies are more than positive distraction and self-expression, though. They help to improve fine and gross motor skills, reduce pain and anxiety, reinforce academic skills and provide opportunities for positive interaction between patients and their families.

It's important to remember that while chemotherapy and radiation are used to treat a child physically, there is more to treatment. The entire team of experts and therapists at Nationwide Children's work together to treat the whole child. In doing so, we allow kids to be kids - and help them to heal.

-Tammi Young-Saleme, Ph.D. is Director of Psychosocial Services and Program Development in the Division of Hematology/Oncology/BMT at Nationwide Children's Hospital.