What she loves most about her work is “seeing how resilient and brave these children are and how they can experience horrible situations yet find the strength to grow from these experiences.”
But in one corner there is a quiet place where work of another type of crucial importance is done every day. That is the office of Dr. Héloïse Sirois-Leclerc, a clinical psychologist in the Oncology/Hematology Department whose patients include the children and youth who come through MDU as well as patients who have been admitted to CHEO for a course of treatment.
The majority of Dr. Sirois-Leclerc’s work is with oncology patients, individually or at times in conjunction with their families. From diagnosis, through treatment, and into the transition away from CHEO, cancer is a journey with many twists and turns. The medical aspect is complex. What staff at CHEO and other pediatric hospitals now understand as well is that the psychosocial impact of cancer is profound. Children may be coping with the stress of treatment, anxiety about their future, or worries about missing school. Side effects from treatment can alter cognition, physical ability or appearance and can lead some children and teens to experience mental health difficulties. Depending on the age and developmental level of the patient, strategies to help must be adapted to meet their individual needs in order to be effective. Dr. Sirois-Leclerc describes this work as, “inspiring, engaging, and challenging.”
For CHEO’s youngest patients, Dr. Sirois-Leclerc often works with parents to assess concerns and to provide recommendations that will support the emotional responses of infants and toddlers who have limited communication. Once patients are old enough to be able to share their feelings about what is happening to them, Dr. Sirois-Leclerc is a listening ear and a support in identifying potential solutions. Letting children and youth, starting around eight years old, have a chance to speak one-on-one about their illness can provide a rare moment of relief and an increased sense of control in a situation where many decisions feel like they are out of their hands. Open conversations about the emotional impact of illness and treatment gives children and youth a chance to process their experiences and provides Dr. Sirois-Leclerc insight into their thinking so that individualized coping strategies to better manage the situations that are causing the most stress can be identified.
Psychologists are part of the ever-growing field of psychosocial care in pediatric oncology. This position didn’t always exist at CHEO and was initiated by families who identified a need for psychological services. After consultations with the medical team, a process was developed to support patients and families who are struggling. Referrals to Dr. Sirois-Leclerc can be initiated for various reasons; a child dealing with intense worry or prolonged change in mood, a significant change in family dynamics, acute distress from medical procedures, the lingering effects of treatment or a need for support in returning to school. She’s been at CHEO for two years and usually sees multiple patients per day in addition to attending team meetings and rounds. What she loves most about her work is, “seeing how resilient and brave these children and families are and how they can experience horrible situations yet find the strength to grow from these experiences and to inspire others to grow as well.”
The CHEO Foundation is proud to support the psychological services available thanks to Dr. Sirois-Leclerc. Her position is 100 percent donor funded and while she is currently the only clinical/health psychologist on her team, her work has profound impacts for numerous oncology patients and families. She embodies CHEO’s mission to partner with children, youth and families to reach goals and understand the impact of care. When it comes to the exhausting marathon that is cancer treatment, this mission must address body and mind together.