“My daughter’s cancer treatment had created a gap that separated her from the rest of our family. Kenzie’s Gift closed that gap for us.” -Harriet Lefau
Renee Lefau was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) on the 25th of May 2016. She had not long turned five and had just started kura / school.
ALL is the most common type of leukaemia in young tamariki / children. Renee had the less aggressive B-cell leukaemia but still needed an intensive treatment regime that lasted for two and a half years.
“Renee engaged with all that was going on in hospital at first,” says Harriet, “but then she realised something wasn’t right and she wasn’t going home. She began to shut down.”
Medical procedures for mate pukupuku / cancer treatments can be invasive and traumatic
This is especially true for young tamariki / children. Renee had a port surgically inserted in her chest to ease the regular administration of medicine but accessing it was uncomfortable for her at times. IV fluids were needed too and finding a vein could be a painful process. Over time, Renee became so traumatised that she would ‘scream the hospital down’ when doctors and nurses came into her room because she knew what was coming.
Renee responded well to her treatments; however the outbursts in hōhipere / hospital carried over into life at home and became more frequent.
“Frustration escalated into angry outbursts and there was no talking her down from these episodes. It would take a long time for her to settle. It was happening more often and we were very concerned. Renee’s outbursts weren’t the normal ones that children have. There was more to it with her.”
Finding Kenzie’s Gift
Harriet belonged to a chatroom for mātua / parents and caregivers with tamariki / children in paediatric oncology wards. She observed that many tamariki / children were displaying the same behaviour as Renee with fits of anger and frustration. She realised Renee was probably suffering from post-traumatic stress because of her mate pukupuku / cancer treatments.
“A lot of parents were struggling to find help for their kids, going down all sorts of avenues. Then Kenzie’s Gift popped up on a post and those parents said they were making good progress.
“I live in Hawkes Bay and there is such a need in our area. I had tried one or two local child psychologists without much success so I contacted Kenzie’s Gift to see if they could help. They didn’t have a therapist here at the time so they stayed with me until they could find someone. One of their therapists called me every week for about six weeks. They went all out to give me a space to vent while they tried to find the help we needed for Renee. They brought on Napier therapist Bernice Gabriel and Renee began to see her.”
Renee had much to cope with
She had endured lengthy mate pukupuku / cancer treatments and was now finding her way back into kura / school and daily life. Renee’s twin was in the same class. Renee’s development was not where her sister’s was. Renee just wanted to be normal and get back to where she’d been before mate pukupuku / cancer happened.
“She had to do a lot of work,” says Harriet.
Renee had 12 sessions with Bernice over a six-month period. Harriet says not having the sessions on consecutive weeks made all the difference as the time between sessions enabled Renee - and the whānau - to work on learnings made with Bernice.
“Renee was timid and reserved at first, a closed book, and it took about four sessions to build the trust with Bernice. Then she started having conversations and said, ‘Mum, I don’t need you in the room any more’ and that was exactly what I wanted. She needed to have her voice and not hold back because I was there. She looked forward to seeing her counsellor. It gave her a safe space.”
Harriet learned that Renee wanted to be heard
Her siblings were quick to express themselves and Renee was often cut off when she was trying to articulate how she was feeling.
“Her frustration was made worse by her inability to say, ‘When you do this, it makes me feel like this’ and we were not aware of these feelings. We tried to not wrap her in cotton wool and treat her the same as the other children but things were going a bit too fast for her. We all needed to step back, give her some space and remember that even though she looked strong, she had been through a lot of trauma mentally.”
The mental trauma was a bond Harriet shared with Renee and this provided some helpful insights. Harriet had been diagnosed with mate pukupuku / cancer in 2014 and was still processing her own experience when Renee was diagnosed. Her own challenges were ‘put on the shelf’ while she supported her daughter.
Renee and Harriet used the tools and resources provided by Bernice. A good one was ‘flipping your lid’.
“Bernice explained that when Renee ‘flipped her lid’ she would need ‘time out’ to settle down again. That little tip was gold for us. Renee understood, and if she had an outburst at home, I could say to her, ‘You’ve just flipped your lid and you need to calm down’. It was like a visual aid for her and she’d then go to her room or a quiet space. Sometimes she demanded I stay in the room and talk to her but I found that hard because when she was really fired up, she’d say things that none of my other children would ever say to me. My response was that I’d ‘flipped my lid too’ and I needed some time out too. When I spoke like that she understood and we could both go away, calm down and then come back together again.”
Rebuilding a bond
For Harriet it was also about rebuilding the parent-child bond with Renee, one that had been fractured not only by Renee’s mate pukupuku / cancer diagnosis but Harriet’s too. Harriet acknowledges the mate pukupuku / cancer trauma they share is one bond, but it’s the one she has as Renee’s mum that she wanted to restore. The therapy from Kenzie’s Gift has helped with that.
“Kenzie’s Gift has been an absolute godsend for our family. We spent over a year and a half looking for the right child psychologist for our daughter. The need was so great, no one could help and that blew my mind.
“Kenzie’s Gift has a service that so many parents can benefit from. My daughter’s cancer treatment had created a gap that separated her from the rest of our family. Kenzie’s Gift closed that gap for us. At the end of Renee’s therapy, we came in as a family so our other children could share in the conversation and say how they felt.
“My husband and I left the room at one point and I learned later that my youngest son said he was angry that Renee had fallen ill. They had always been very close but he was upset because she took all the attention that he was used to getting as the youngest. When Renee’s treatment finished she got more attention, from us, from her teachers, her grandmother, and the other kids became resentful. That’s when I knew for sure that the trauma of Renee’s illness had affected our whole family.
“The therapy we received helped the family to understand where Renee was coming from and gave us the coping mechanisms to help us deal with it. Renee is now well and thriving but we still keep in mind the tools we have acquired.”
To see if Kenzie’s Gift can help your whānau through some of life’s toughest times, get in touch.