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Resources

Staying in hospital for the first time: A guide for parents and carers

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, they enter often unfamiliar territory of appointments, tests, hospitals and treatments. You’ll have a team of medical professionals and support workers ready to help you navigate it, but sometimes it can be helpful to know more about what to expect. 

Where a child is treated will most likely depend on their age. Most children are treated at a paediatric (children’s) hospital, but teenagers are sometimes treated at adult hospitals.

Where they receive their treatment also depends on where they live or even what type of cancer they have. Not all hospitals offer cancer treatment, so you may have to travel, especially if you live in a regional or rural area.

There are a lot of people who work in a child’s treating team. Together, they can form what is called a multidisciplinary team (or MDT) – a team of professionals from all different areas working together to make sure each child is getting the best possible care.

Oncologist a doctor specialising in cancer. There are three varieties of these:

Medical Oncologist diagnoses and treats patients (including chemotherapy)

Radiation Oncologist will decide if a patient needs radiation therapy and look after this process

Surgical Oncologist specialises in using surgery to remove cancer

Haematologist a doctor specialising in blood diseases including lymphoma or leukaemia

Consultant a doctor who has completed their specialist training

Registrar a doctor who is completing their specialist training

Resident/Intern a junior doctor who will work with the Registrar

Radiologist looks at and interprets your x-rays, MRIs and CAT scans

Some children end up in hospital very quickly once they are diagnosed. This is where a Redkite Red Bag can be useful. 

Whether parents and other family members can stay overnight will depend on the hospital’s policy. Generally, paediatric hospitals will try to let carers stay and have facilities for this. 

If you are staying in hospital for a long period for treatment, there are some things you can do to make it more.

  • Bringing in familiar things from home, like photos, favourite teddies, your pillows and blankets
  • Inviting visitors or letting people know you don’t feel up to seeing visitors
  • Staying in touch with family and friends through video chats and social media
  • Catching up on books you’ve been reading to read, watching movies and tv shows, or playing games

Here are some other tips parents have shared with us.

If you’re travelling a long distance to support a young person through treatment, you might be concerned about where you’ll stay. There are services who may be able to help.

You might also be able to access your state’s patient travel scheme. For more information on this or any other questions around accommodation, get in touch with us.

Every hospital will have different rules regarding visitors and visiting hours, so it is best to ask your treating team about what’s possible and what’s best for your child.

It can be helpful to connect the diagnosed child with friends, extended family and school or work mates, so even if they can’t visit in person, it’s helpful to try video calls.

Translating medical language can be hard enough at the best of times, but if English is a second language for you or others in your family it can be even harder. There are a number of services that can help.

Most public hospitals will provide access to interpreter services, and your hospital social worker will know more about this.

Depending on your cultural or religious background, you might be worried about having private consultations with a doctor. You can request a male or female doctor or take a family member or friend with you.

If you’re Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, most hospitals have an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Hospital Liaison Officers. They can visit you to explain the hospital system, provide language translation services, advocate for your needs to hospital staff, help access accommodation services, and some hospitals have dedicated spaces for you.

To connect with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Liaison Service, talk to your nurse or social worker. 

While most children will stay in hospital initially, they can also be treated as outpatients, where you live at home and visit the hospital every so often for treatment. Many children cycle through different stages of treatment both in hospital and as outpatients.

For support, contact our team of childhood cancer specialists

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