In the past, children with Cancer were cared for in a general, medical paediatric ward. They were nursed in the single rooms available. From the start of their treatment to the time they were in remission and could be safely sent home, they had to stay in that room. The rooms had no T.V. In some cases they did not have any private facilities and the mother had to sleep on an armchair if there was no bed available. It was a very hard time for the child going through this illness and in most cases an even harder time for their parents. They went from being a family, to having a child with a potentially fatal condition.
About 8 years ago, it was wisely decided that these children should be nursed in a separate unit. That is when the Paedatric Oncology Unit came into existence. The ward is beautifully painted and decorated by loving parents and caring volunteers. These people are all willing to give up a lot of their time to create as pleasant an environment as possible. Through the generosity of sponsors, all the rooms has a folding bed to be used by the parent staying with the child, an LCD television, D.V.D. player, play station, Nintendo Wii, a laptop with internet access in all the rooms, a multimedia system plus a selection of D.V.D.s and games. A new kitchen is also installed so that parents can prepare meals for them. Although the meals provided by the hospital are fine, one must remember that chemotherapy plays havoc with the child’s appetite. The mother is encouraged to cook whatever they like at whatever time they want it. When Neutropaenia is present, it is very important that the food is cooked properly and the best way to ensure this is for the mother to cook it herself.
We also have a washing machine and tumble dryer so that the parents need not worry about not having clean clothes when the child is sick.
Soon after the ward was opened, the Puttinu Cares Children’s Cancer Support Group was set up.
Whoever walks through the doors of Rainbow Ward in Mater Dei, can be sure that the Puttinu team as well as the staff there will help them and guide them in any way they can through this difficult period. The support group offers guidance for parents, helps them deal with the ordeal ahead and gives them hope for a brighter future. The team gets to know the families and aims to treat each family as an individual team with individual needs. We also offer help when families need to go abroad to pursue any kind of further treatment. Furthermore, we also help with accommodation and flight expenses.
Lately we have purchased 3 apartments that are within walking distance of the Royal Marsden Hospital. These apartments can take up to 6 families if need be and are fully furnished and have all the necessities. In this way we have at least removed the big worry these families had of where they were going to stay especially when their child was discharged after a Bone Marrow Transplant and was at his most vulnerable. While the families are there they are encouraged to inform us of the child’s progress or otherwise and to tell us about any problems they might encounter. When they have to stay in England for a very long time they find this telephone contact very comforting as they all say that at times they feel really alone and homesick. On our part we try to smooth out any problems if we can.
Throughout the year, many activities are organized by the support group and by various other people aimed at making these children forget their illness for a short while. Their have been Fun runs, dives, swimming marathons and our very own Football marathon. This is organized by Rennie Zerafa with the help of a number of very enthusiastic young people who are very generous with their time and energy. These activities help in raising awareness towards the plight of these young cancer victims and their families and also in raising much needed funds to help them in their needs.
These activities also help all the families to get together away from the hospital environment. The children and their brothers and sisters where possible, have been taken on an aeroplane flight over Malta, on boat trips around the Islands, on rides in a Ferrari, to the circus, to concerts given by popular singers visiting Malta and various other fun activities.
In Summer we have a barbeque where all the families who have ever made use of Rainbow ward are invited. This is a very festive occasion and one that both parents and staff look forward too. The children’s families get to know us as a family in our own right and that helps them relate to us even more. At Christmas time we have a big Party for all the children and even the siblings get a present.
The funds collected are also used to buy any equipment which will help in better administration of treatment. It also helps in buying any expensive drugs which are required for the treatment of the child and which are not available from the hospital pharmacy.
It is not easy working in a Paediatric Oncology ward and a lot of people ask how we can bear to work in such a place. But contrary to what a lot of people might believe, the ward is not full of gloom and doom. Most times it is full of laughter and the sound of children playing.