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Behind the Scenes

Family Matters - Summer 2010

Cad's In It for the Children

Cad Willeford found her niche at MD Anderson. Willeford loves children and went from teaching into the child life arena in the MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital.

Fluent in Spanish, working on Arabic, but totally conversant in the special language of children, Willeford says that just being with the young patients is what she likes most about her job. The fact that a child life specialist has so many varied responsibilities keeps things interesting for her. She moves from interacting with patients and their families in the Robin Bush Child and Adolescent Clinic to accompanying many of these same children into the operating room for surgical procedures.

However, Willeford says that her very favorite week of the year is the one she spends at Camp Star Trails. “At camp, you’re with the children the entire time,” she explains. “You see them as normal kids in a normal setting, and you see them accomplish things that they are proud of.”

A regular at Camp Star Trails, Willeford knows that many of the young campers would normally be unable to have this kind of experience. “It opens new doors for them,” she says.

She also enjoys watching the doctors and nurses who come to camp interact with the young patients on a play level, and cites one special doctor who serves as the camp physician year after year – and as the fishing instructor, too. “I see him every morning at 6:30 a.m., baiting hooks, teaching campers to cast and helping them learn the joys of actually catching a fish,” she says.

Willeford has been a child life specialist for 17 years in the MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital, and she’s seen numerous changes over the years. As the patient census has increased, the administrative part of the job has also increased and she has less time to spend with the children. While she realizes the importance of documentation, she says that her first concern is always with the patients.

As the child life program has grown, siblings have also become more a part of the daily dealings in her job. “The child life program encourages the participation of siblings in every activity we promote,” Willeford says.

When asked to talk about special patients, Willeford is reluctant to single out one patient. “There are so many stories and so many children I grow close to that I couldn’t possibly just pick one,” she explains. After pushing, she does talk about a recent patient and watching the relationship this child developed with another patient during a tough situation. The fact that she was the intermediary between the two touched her in a special way.

“The child life specialists in the Children’s Cancer Hospital work as a team and we know we can count on each other,” Willeford says. “That’s one reason why this is such a great job, but the real reason is the patients. I just love being with them.”

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center