Supporting Mental and Emotional Health in the Lives of Kids with Cancer and Blood Disorders

Brandee Aquilino, Medical Psychologist at Roswell Park, poses next to a window, resting her arm on a windowsill.
It’s early morning in the Katherine, Anne and Donna Gioia Pediatric Hematology Oncology Center. Brandee Aquilino, PsyD, MA, is in her office looking at her schedule and preparing for her day. In her role as the Medical Psychologist with the Department of Pediatrics, Brandee helps children and families deal with their medical struggles and with the thoughts and feelings that come both with treatment and after.
In other words, she helps children and their families through the hardest things they’ve ever faced. She works closely with doctors and other medical providers, as well as with her team members: Medical Social Worker Kristen Fix; Manager of the Integrative Wellness Program Doug McDaniel; and Child Life Specialist Jessica Wadium. Thanks to donations, the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation supports the salaries of Brandee’s, Doug’s and Jessica’s positions through its Quality of Life Program. Every day brings new challenges and new joys, and sometimes new losses. Through every moment, Brandee is finding ways to help children and their families make their way through tremendous difficulties.

A Day in the Life of Brandee Aquilino, Child Psychologist

8 a.m. Grief Counseling

Brandee starts her day by sitting down with a mother who is devastated by the recent loss of her 16-year-old daughter to cancer. Brandee provides her with emotional support and grief-focused psychotherapy, helping her to process thoughts and feelings surrounding every parent’s worst fear.

9:30 a.m. Coping

She answers a page to meet with a 19-year-old patient who is having difficulty coping with his diagnosis and treatment. Brandee spends time counseling him on his own and then provides his mother with family-focused counseling.

10:45 a.m. Parent Counseling

A parent is struggling with the terrible news that their child relapsed. Brandee sits with the family, offering emotional support and counseling that helps them adjust and cope with the fear, anxiety and life changes that accompany starting treatment again, as well as the child’s poorer prognosis.

12:30 p.m. Treatment Compliance Intervention

There’s a family facing a lot of stressors that have made it difficult for them to get to their child’s leukemia treatment appointments. Brandee provides family-focused counseling and support to help them develop ways to cope with these issues and develop a plan for improving compliance.

1:13 p.m. School and Peer Counseling

A school psychologist calls Brandee to schedule a session with a patient’s elementary school class. Brandee will talk to the students, help them understand why their classmate has been missing school and prepare them for his return by explaining why he might look or behave differently when he returns to class.

2:42 p.m. Treatment Anxiety

Brandee is paged to come help a 16-year-old with anxiety who is having a panic attack in the Gioia Center. She provides emotional support and implements coping strategies to help him relax, then talks about this with the medical team so his procedure will be more successful.

3:36 p.m. Crisis Management

A teenage patient who has been battling severe depression needs urgent attention. Brandee is paged to provide emergency intervention in person for the patient and parents.

Around 5 p.m.

Brandee returns to her desk to update her records and review her schedule for the next day before going home. But even when she leaves, she remains available by phone to the people who need her. 24 hours a day. Brandee knows that nighttime is the worst time of all for some of the patients and families who rely on her. Anxiety hits hard. Grief, harder. It is all crisis management as these children and their families go through the hardest things they’ve ever known. “Parents whose children are sick have the most difficult and heartbreaking job. It makes mine feel easy,” she says. “The hardest part for me is I can’t make it go away.”

© 2020 Courage of Carly Fund

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