Lobke Marsden - Radiotherapy: connecting children through play

Updated: Aug 28, 2018

Lobke Marsden

Lobke Marsden is our first Action Radiotherapy guest blogger.

Lobke is a Play Specialist at the radiotherapy department of St James Institute of Oncology Children's Room.

"I don’t think I could do your job." Being surrounded by sick children means sadness, right? This was what I was expecting on my first day, supporting children and young people through their radiotherapy treatment.

Meeting my first patient, I already knew her prognosis. She was half way through 6 weeks of treatment. She had to wear an orfit mask, clipped to the bed to keep her in the correct position. She arrived; I introduced myself. Soon we were sitting together at the art table crafting happily while chatting about her love of musicals. In those moments I almost forgot why she was there and I hope she did too. Reality intruded when the phone rang to say the radiographers were ready. I expected the mood to change but it didn’t. My colleagues and I guided her to the machine, singing songs from her favourite musical. She literally skipped her way in to the treatment room where the radiographers greeted, laughed and joked with her; a Disney cd already playing in the background. This was nothing like the sombre mood I expected.

The team treated her as a child, not a patient, and the impact of that was there, clear to see.

Whatever the outcome for this little girl; what stays with me is how her radiotherapy experience could have been traumatic but how, thanks to the care and support of staff, this experience was the best it could be.

Support comes in many ways and it is totally personal to the individual. I have sung Three Little Monkeys over the intercom to a 5-year-old while she was having radiotherapy. For six weeks! Just because it made her giggle (probably because I can't sing!)

I have steered nervous patients through the mask-making procedure; with guided imagery or by simply just being there. The treatment masks can be challenging; to help with this patients have the option of making a mask on a doll or they can even help make a real one for their carer, something they very much enjoy. It takes away fear of the unknown and they love being involved in the process. Painting the masks in a design of their choice can help. The mask no longer feels like a treatment mask but becomes Batman or My Little Pony. It can be anything that has meaning to them. It has also been surprisingly popular with our teenagers and young adults. Superheroes seem to be the most popular choice, which seems entirely fitting!

Something else we find very helpful is our magic string. There isn’t much magic about the string itself. The magic happens when the child or young person holds one end of the string, their loved one the other end, and a connection is made and felt. They are in the room by themselves but they are not alone; they are connected. One young child said: “it felt like still holding hands” - beautiful.

No matter our age or situation, we all feel the need to be connected. It is my honour to be in a job to reinforce and celebrate this connection through the most challenging of times.

More information on the Radiotherapy Department at The St James Institute of Oncology can be found on their website.