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Communication with Children with Cancer and Their Families Throughout the Illness Journey and at the End of Life

Part of the Pediatric Oncology book series (PEDIATRICO)

Abstract

Skillful communication is imperative to the practice of pediatric oncology and pediatric palliative care. Clear, empathic, and individualized communication facilitates trust and relationship building between clinicians, patients, and families, encourages shared decision-making, and affords clinicians a valuable opportunity to integrate goals of care and quality of life into the holistic management plan. In the context of incurable illness, conversation also may serve as a therapeutic intervention itself, enabling clinicians to reframe hope, alleviate suffering, and mitigate complicated bereavement. Moreover, good communication promotes collaborative interdisciplinary care coordination and continuity, enabling the provision of services, resources, and support across various care locations and throughout the illness trajectory. The importance of providing excellent communication to the families of children with high-risk cancer and other life-threatening illnesses has been emphasized by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine, multiple national oncology societies, and experts in pediatric oncology and palliative care. This chapter discusses the benefits of providing effective communication at the intersection of pediatric oncology and palliative care and reviews strategies for achieving high-quality communication between clinicians, patients, and families across a spectrum of challenging clinical scenarios. This chapter also highlights common barriers to effective communication and offers strategies to overcome potential roadblocks, incorporating recommendations from a diverse interdisciplinary team of pediatric palliative care experts.

“Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.”

Oliver Wendall Holmes

“The way you tell the truth to families makes a huge difference…if you know the person that’s coming in there and they’re telling the truth, as hard as it is, but you know they care about you and they love your child, it’s okay. As hard as it is, it’s okay and it makes all the difference.”

Bereaved parent

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Kaye, E.C. et al. (2018). Communication with Children with Cancer and Their Families Throughout the Illness Journey and at the End of Life. In: Wolfe, J., Jones, B., Kreicbergs, U., Jankovic, M. (eds) Palliative Care in Pediatric Oncology. Pediatric Oncology. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-61391-8_4

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