At the New York Proton Center, our Child Life Coordinator Maria Martin, MS, CCLS, works tirelessly to provide an unparalleled patient experience for children who are being treated for cancer with proton therapy. Every day, she brings energy, joy, positivity and encouragement to young patients who are going through some of the most challenging circumstances in their lives yet.
As we close out Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we want to take a moment to honor Maria – and all child life specialists – for the incredibly important role they play in the treatment of children with cancer.
From a young age, Maria knew that she wanted to work with children, but she had not always imagined a career opportunity quite like this. It wasn’t until her freshman year of college on a medical mission to El Salvador that it dawned on her. It was there – playing with the children and holding their hands while they received vaccinations – that she was first introduced to the child life profession. She was hooked.
During the rest of her time at college, Maria volunteered at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) and Albany Medical Center, where she got a sense of what it was like working with pediatric patients in a hospital setting. Upon graduation, she went on to complete her master’s degree in Child Life at the Bank Street College of Education, and she continued volunteering at MSK. Right after graduating, she began working at MSK and was there for six years before she joined us here at NYPC.
Maria’s work involves a variety of things that all revolve around patient care: “I like to think that I’m a part of the patient experience, whatever that may look like in the moment – whether it’s coming home covered in stickers, or having a serious conversation with a parent, and listening to them emotionally fall apart and giving them support. I’ll do whatever I can to provide support.”
She often helps patients prepare for treatment by providing toys and costumes that will make it more enjoyable for them. Things like mask decorating, crafts, and playing music all work to make the experience feel as ‘normal’ as possible. The masks are for children treated for brain and head and neck cancers, and Maria decorates them based on the patient’s request – unicorns, kittens, superheroes and Pokemon characters are among the most requested. For children under 6 years old, who often require anesthesia to stay still during treatment, Maria walks them through how it will feel.
There are many things Maria finds rewarding, from being able to comfort parents and provide them with hope and levity during heavy times, to helping patients go from being anxious about their treatment to comfortable and sometimes even excited to come to the center.
She helps them on their journey, and says, “just seeing a patient kind of adjust and start to develop those coping mechanisms and coping strategies, having them come in on their first day, and being kind of nervous and scared and overwhelmed with what’s going to go on here, and then seeing the world of difference after their fourth or fifth treatment.”
The work Maria does is not always easy, but she balances the heaviness by remembering the joy, positivity and value she brings to people who really need it. “I really do value what I do at NYPC and hope that I’m providing something positive and contributing to making their treatment experience a little bit better.”
We are grateful for how dedicated Maria is to her work in child life, and how much immeasurable support and comfort she provides to children fighting cancer at NYPC.
Maria Martin, MS, CCLS is part of the New York Proton Center’s Patient Support team. To learn more about the NYPC care team and how we offer unparalleled care for children during their proton therapy treatment, contact us and we’ll connect you with a member of our team.