When Max Veeck was 3 years old and combatting a rare Desmoid tumor, taking 16 milliliters of daily oral chemo was a hard and unrelenting task. It can be difficult to convince a preschooler of the value of drinking yucky medicine day after day, month after month. It was certainly becoming an escalating challenge for Max’s mom, Kathy.
Cellie is part of pediatric psychologist and behavioral researcher Meghan Marsac’s cancer coping kit, co-invented with artist Anne Vinsel. Cellie was sparked by Marsac’s observations working with oncology patients at CHOP during her fellowship. She identified a need for this therapeutic tool to teach parents coping techniques that most wouldn’t normally need to know. Cellie keeps a stack of cancer coping information cards in its mouth with practical tips and techniques for everyday coping strategies.
“Parents are good at parenting in a natural context. However, when a child is diagnosed with cancer, parents face unique, unexpected challenges,” explains Marsac. “Those parents have to figure out how to support their children through treatment.”
How do you make kids comfortable through an endless number of needle sticks? What are cognitive distraction techniques for coping with nausea? How do you rally the spirit of a child who’s losing hair because of chemo?
Helpful tips for families
Kathy Veeck testifies to the success of Cellie.
“Max was taking flavored oral chemo and it was a challenge,” she recalls. “He was rebelling against it, so we got the doll. There was a card that told us to ‘chase the medicine with his favorite juice.’ It really helped. That and the one about ‘belly breathing,’ to relax.”
Kathy remembers he would bring the cards with him to bed every night and insist that she read them all to him. Max finished chemotherapy in October 2013 and is doing well, with no tumor growth.
Using Cellie at the Hospital — and at home
CHOP gives every cancer patient a Cellie coping kit for free. The kit keeps both family and medical staff working as a team, using the same techniques. Marsac explains that she wanted to support families at home as well as in the Hospital. So if a child comes home from school and is losing her hair, the parent has a resource in that exact moment of stress. The Cellie kit provides immediate assistance to the patient and empowers the family to solve problems.
CHOP began distributing the coping kit in February 2013, with charitable support from the Coach Wags Memorial Foundation. Cellie kits can be purchased by other hospitals or individuals for patients outside CHOP at celliecopingkit.org. A Spanish translation is under way.
We all need comforting in times of stress, but Cellie knows just what to tell kids who are coping with the unique trials of cancer.
By Sarah Jordan