#ChildLifeMonth: My (full) Story

For those that are unaware, the month of March is Child Life Month which means we, as Child Life Specialists (both aspiring and certified) get to explain to the people of the world what it is we do

over,

and over,

and over…

like we do all the other days ๐Ÿ˜‰

So what makes March special? Well, like any awareness campaign I think having a select period of time to dedicate toward a specific cause, organization, or group of people is very important and eye-opening to the public. It has been two days since March has begun and the social media representation of child life across the globe has been amazing!

As my first Child Life Month as a CCLS I wanted to take some time to reflect on my child life journey thus far…starting from the very beginning.

In 2001, as some of you may know, I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloblastic Leukaemia (AML)ย in the Summer of 2001 when I was 8 years old. Upon diagnosis I began immediate and aggressive chemotherapy. I was an inpatient at the Children’s Hospital in London, ON for 8 months and as a result was introduced to the magical world of child life.

To say I was a difficult patientย is an understatement that each and every one of my nurses would attest to. I was a screamer, a crier, a kicker, and all around very very afraid of pain of any kind. Oh, and I couldn’t swallow a pill to save my life (literally…). Enter: child life.

I was introduced to my tag team CCLS’s Melissa and Lisa (pictured below with me during treatment) and everything was changed. Was I ever a dream patient? I don’t think so…BUT Melissa and Lisa ensured that my feelings were always validated, that I understood what was going to be happening to me, and provided my younger sister with the support she desperately needed as well.

My dad tried to convince me that I was going to grow up and be a scientist and find the cure for cancer… buuut I shot that down pretty quickly and ensured everyone that I was going to be a child life specialist.

Throughout elementary school I identified a CLS as a person that plays with kids in the hospital and makes them less scared (more or less accurate, I’d say!) but it wasn’t until high school that I began looking in to what is actually required of a CLS academically, professionally, and therapeutically. I made sure to take the appropriate courses in high school that would lead me to a university-level path and though at one point I swore never to return to London again, that is the city I ended up at!

My first and second years didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped they would and unfortunately it took me until halfway through my third year to find study strategies and other resources that worked best for me. I did, however, pursue child life volunteering in second year though spots were incredibly minimal. It took me until my fourth year to land a spot in the Children’s Hospital and it wasn’t even child life related…I was volunteering 3 hours a week to sit at the information desk. At first I was disappointed in this role, but it proved to be incredibly valuable and lead to an abundance of new opportunities. Because I was essentially a tour guide, I had to know where everything in the hospital was, and what services we offered to patients and families. As a result I came across the Paediatric Family Resource Centre where I met the family advisor. After chatting on several occasions, I shared my patient story with her and she immediately offered me a public speaking opportunity at a local high school as their guest speaker for their Relay for Life fundraiser.

Through this relationship I had the chance to meet many people in a wide variety of roles at Children’s, including several child life specialists. Eventually, I landed a position in child life, quit my position at the information desk, began helping regularly in the Resource Centre and as a result was asked to become a Patient and Family Advisor.

In my fourth year of university I applied to McMaster University‘s (then) Child Life Diploma program (now Master’s) and was convinced (for some reason) that I would get in but I was not granted an acceptance, or even an interview. I was crushed. McMaster was the only school in Canada to offer a child life program and I had never heard of anyone here pursuing child life any differently. After having struggled through the first three quarters of my undergraduate career I so desperately wanted to move forward but knew that in order to be considered even remotely competitive for McMaster’s program I needed to improve upon the grades from my first (at least) two years of university. This was not an option I was willing to accept and immediately began searching alternative options.

Enter Facebook, blogging, and the University of California Santa Barbara’s Child Life Program. After spending the summer searching for a child life program that wouldn’t put me in (more) debt, or make me move to the United States, I came across several online child life programs that would get me where I wanted to be. I reached out to other Canadian students pursuing child life and created a Facebook group with a child life friend that is dedicated to Canadians studying child life in Canada, the US, and abroad. I also created this blog and could not be more glad that I did.

After a painstakinglyย long and discouraging internship site search, I found nearly 30 hospitals that I wanted to apply to across Canada and the US (25/30 being in the US…) to complete a Fall internship (September 2016 start).

I received two interviews and two offers from two hospitals in the States and accepted the offer I received from a hospital in Florida. I was beyond nervous to make this transition but knew that this was what I had to do to make my dreams come true. After a couple of weeks, I received another offer for an interview from a hospital here in Canada (in Alberta) and while I know some may have disagreed with my decision, I thanked them and turned down the opportunity to interview with them. I felt as though I needed to stick to a decision and be happy with it, so that’s what I did.

I moved home in July in preparation for my internship and was trying to get my visa situation sorted out when I got the awful news that my offer was being withdrawn. For future reference: according to border officials I spoke with & the hospital’s legal team, you DO need a visa to intern as a CLS in the States because you are working with a patient population, regardless of the fact that you are a Canadian citizen…my issue was that the hospital was unable to sponsor the visa that I was required and as a result I was suddenly internship-less.ย 

With less than two months until I was *supposed* to move to Florida I had no idea what to do…so I talked with child life friends. One of my friends (thank you a million times over) suggested I contact Morgan Livingstone (a CCLS in private practice in Toronto) that I had very briefly met at a symposium that April. I figured it was worth a shot so I emailed her right away explaining my situation and essentially asking for guidance as I was completely devastated. She immediately took me under her wing and invited me to do my internship with her.ย 

Blessing is almost not strong enough of a word to describe what resulted from my working with Morgan. She built, from the ground up, a community-based child life practice in Toronto, and a locally sustainable child life program at a teaching hospital in Kenya. As part of my internship I travelled with her there as it is a huge component of the work she does as a CCLS.

I started working with Morgan inย Augustย and finished interning at the end ofย October… I wrote my certification exam on November 15th and the rest is history.

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog posts you will know that I am living in Toronto, working full time as a nanny for two little ones, and helping Morgan in her practice on the side.

This is probably the longest blog post I’ve ever written and there are STILL details I could add. For those of you that lasted this entire way, thank you. And for those of you who have supported me, thank you even more.

I am grateful to be participating in my first Child Life Month as an official CCLS and cannot wait to see what other adventures this field will take me on. It hasย notย been an easy road, but I am so glad that I persevered and followed my heart.

Happy Child Life Month!

Alexx

 

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