Child Life helps family battle cancer

October 30, 2018

Phil and Donna Miller’s worst nightmare was confirmed in July 2013.

A bump on their daughter’s arm turned out to be more than just a battle scar from soccer practice. Their little girl, Hannah, was diagnosed with an aggressive bone cancer in her right arm. Hannah, then 9 years old, needed to start treatment as soon as possible.

“She’s our one and only daughter and to hear she had a disease like cancer was tough to take,” Phil said. “You want the best for your children. We knew we were going to have a pretty tough road to fight, but we were going to beat it.”

Hannah was able to receive much of her medical care close to home at Sanford Children’s in Bismarck, but her family also traveled to Fargo for advanced cancer care.

As part of her treatment, two cancerous bones from Hannah’s forearm were removed and replaced with a bone from her leg. For the following months, Hannah’s arm and leg healed in casts.

Hannah, who loves playing soccer and being active, couldn’t do the things she wanted to do. The Sanford Children’s Child Life Specialists in Fargo made that time bearable for Hannah.

“The Child Life services were an amazing benefit to Hannah,” Donna said. “They were able to help ease the stress, strain and anxiety that children can feel during difficult times.”

Child Life Specialists are trained child development professionals who work behind the scenes and in tandem with doctors and nurses to ensure each child has the best experience possible. With well-established programs at Sanford Health in Fargo and Sioux Falls, Child Life services have helped improve pediatric outcomes, the quality of care and the overall patient and family experience.

When Hannah wasn’t feeling well, Child Life helped distract her from the pain and discomfort of treatment.

“I have a lot of fun with Child Life,” Hannah said. “They bring art projects into my room and take me to play in the playroom.”

With Child Life by her side, Hannah learned to cope and keep herself busy during those long hospital stays.

Throughout her treatment, Sanford Children’s Hospital in Bismarck was able to provide Hannah with certain care and therapies she needed, with the added comfort of knowing her friends and family were nearby.

The arts and crafts projects she worked on with Child Life in Fargo also gave her a way to make a difference for others.

During one stay at Sanford Children’s in Bismarck, Hannah walked around and counted how many other kids were in the hospital. Then she created a get-well card for each child. The process not only helped Hannah feel better, it brought joy to the other patients and their families.

“This is just one way Hannah is so special,” Phil said. “We watched our little girl provide support and advice to kids who were earlier in the process than Hannah. She would give them tips on how to handle things better.”

Today Hannah is 15 years old and proud to say she’s cancer-free. The Miller family continues to be grateful for the Child Life team, who helped them get through one of the toughest times of their lives.

“Through Hannah’s entire journey, I began to witness a side to my daughter that I knew was always there, but she had to show it much earlier than I ever expected,” Phil said. “She is truly an amazing, inspiring girl and our family has been blessed with an even closer bond than before.”

By supporting the Above and Beyond campaign, you can help bring the region’s first Child Life program to Sanford Children’s in Bismarck. Together, we will raise the standard of care and go above and beyond for our children.