Young patient George Wormleighton in playroom

When child's play matters

In the Oak Centre for Children and Young People, our play specialists Kate, Claire, Caroline and Tanya perform one of the most vital roles in young children's cancer treatment and care, and our friendly playroom facilities help children to express themselves, as well as playing host to parties on special occasions.

The thought of going into the room and being on my own was very scary, but having my teddy with me helped.

Also knowing that Claire was outside, talking to me and reading stories helped me forget what was happening.

Maisy, 10 years old

Kate, Claire, Caroline and Tanya, are the four charity-funded expert play specialists who work in the Oak Centre for Children and Young People in our Sutton hospital.

They use their understanding of child development, therapeutic play activities and distraction techniques to help young patients prepare for and cope with painful or invasive procedures, scans and treatment. They meet every single young patient to assess what support they need and adapt activities to meet the individual's needs, whether in the playroom or at their bedside.

Messy play, such as syringe painting and play dough, are great ways for young patients to release their feelings of frustration and anger, allowing them to cope with difficult situations, as play specialist Claire Riddell explains:

It's important that we can help children to deal with their fears so that they are able to undergo potentially life-saving treatment without lasting psychological phobias

Funding by the Chancellor using LIBOR funds will support The Royal Marsden’s play specialist service until 2020.

Jack and play specialist Kate Hodgkiss in the Radiotherapy playroom

Understanding Jack

Jack, 10, who has autism and Type 1 diabetes, is unable to speak. Last year he was also diagnosed with a rare pineal tumour in his brain, and, after major surgery, was transferred to us for follow-up chemo and radiotherapy.

When he visits for treatment Jack relies on our play specialist Kate Hodgkiss. She prepares him for treatment by showing him pictures of what will happen, and filling out a sticker chart in the radiotherapy playroom. She even helped him make a radiotherapy mask for his toy dinosaur, just like the one he wears - it really helps him to not be so scared. Jack's mum Claire can't believe the effect on Jack:

Kate’s input has been invaluable. She keeps Jack so calm and is good at explaining the procedures every step of the way. Before he started radiotherapy we thought he would need a general anaesthetic, but thanks to her support he’s got through the treatment without needing one!

It’s taken a huge amount of pressure off our shoulders because we know she’s there.

Filly and the Madagascan periwinkle at the Eden Project
Filly and the Madagascan periwinkle at the Eden Project

Filly's flower power!

One of our very young patients, Filly, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukamia in December 2016. Filly loved to use the play area and spend time with the play specialists - she even ended up having to spend Christmas, Easter, and her fourth birthday in our hospital in Sutton. As her mum Lyndsey explains:

When she found out she'd be spending her birthday in hospital her first question was whether she could have a cake big enough for everyone to share. She's a little poppet. She makes cancer look easy.

Filly is now officially in remission - she even started school in September. During the summer her mum took her to the Eden Project in Cornwall to see the Madagascan Periwinkle - the flower that produced the drug vincristine, used to treat Filly's cancer.

Filly gave the flower a kiss and said 'thank you!'

Support like yours makes all the difference

By donating today you too can make a huge difference to how children's cancer is treated, so that young patients like Filly and Jack can experience the best environment and care possible.