Play eases life's troubles

Play eases life's troubles

Fun diversions and creative hobbies can help young cancer patients cope better during long stays in hospital


Milly Pun Hok-hei, a 15-year-old cancer patient, with her therapist Alfee Chan Lai-man at Prince of Wales Hospital. Above: Milly with one of her handmade angels.
Milly Pun Hok-hei, a 15-year-old cancer patient, with her therapist Alfee Chan Lai-man at Prince of Wales Hospital. Above: Milly with one of her handmade angels.
Photo: Edward Wong
Milly Pun Hok-hei carefully passes a length of nylon thread through a series of colourful beads. She is making angels. Lots of them. She wants to make one for all her friends at the children's haematology and oncology ward at Prince of Wales Hospital, Sha Tin.

"Angels bring us hope," Milly, 15, says. "They take care of us- make us happy."

She was once a member of her school's swimming and track-and-field teams, sang in the school choir, loved to draw and play the piano; that was before.

For the past five years, Milly has spent much of her time in hospital. When she was 10, she was diagnosed with a type of cancer of the lymphatic system.

She endured six months of chemotherapy, but three years later she relapsed. Last year she underwent a bone marrow transplant with her father acting as the donor. She needs regular follow-up treatment, which entails painful, long and boring hospital stays. The hospital playroom soon became her favourite place.

"My parents needed to work so I was by myself a lot," Milly says. "And I'd go to the playroom to make handicrafts. That took my mind off my illness."

The playroom is open to all patients under the age of 18. The facility has been found to have a positive effect on their overall wellbeing.

"Play is the most basic form of communication among children," says Alfee Chan Lai-man, a hospital play specialist at the Children's Cancer Foundation Hong Kong, who works at Prince of Wales. "During play, children interact and express themselves in a relaxed and secure environment."

Cancer patients especially need distractions. "Going through the treatment is difficult," Chan says. "They also have fears about the procedures, and younger children don't understand why they have to stay in hospital."

Yet playtime helps to put their minds at ease. Chan and her team help young patients adjust to hospital life and respond to treatment.

They educate them about treatments by telling stories; dolls are used to show them how it all works. Their play also boosts the children's spirits.

"In hospital Milly fell in love with making handicrafts; it makes her happy. She's learned to care about others," her mother says.

Chan hopes that there will be more play rooms and specialists for child cancer patients in Hong Kong.

The Foundation has a team of only five registered play specialists who offer services in five different hospitals. Its statistics show that child cancer is the second major cause of death among Hong Kong children; it claims the lives of 70 children a year, so the demand is there.

"Hong Kong has a high standard of medical health care," Chan says. "It should be able to offer more psychological support to sick children and extend the services of play specialists to non-cancer patients, too,"



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