There's a cool new way to help kids with cancer keep calm during treatment.
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Northwestern Mutual

Pretty much nobody likes getting their blood drawn.

Some of us are better about it than others, but when it comes to needles, it's safe to say very few people jump at the opportunity to get stuck with one — aside from the good-hearted folks who donate.

Unfortunately, part of what cancer patients have to go through for treatment includes tons of needle-y, pokey, proddy procedures that can give even the most stoic patients pain and anxiety. And for pediatric cancer patients, it's even worse.


Image via iStock.

Jenny Hoag, a pediatric psychologist at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, tells the story of one patient, Jamie*, whose experience demonstrates just how distressing regular procedures can be for kids with cancer and other chronic diseases:

"I had worked with him since the beginning of his treatment, and he really, really struggled," she says. "He would get here and immediately feel nauseous and anxious and would almost always vomit, sometimes more than once, before we even did anything."

Hoag's job is to come up with ways to help kids conquer that discomfort and anxiety. But in Jamie's case, he wasn't interested.

Jamie rejected Hoag’s coping mechanisms, but once she suggested virtual reality, his curiosity won out.

Hoag brought in a virtual reality program that makes the wearer feel as though they're underwater, being pushed along calmly while viewing colorful fish, ships, and other distracting scenes.

"Once the headset was on, he was already smiling, which I almost never saw," Hoag says. Jamie sat through the whole 20-minute program, enjoying every moment. "He took it off and said, 'I really want to do that again.'"

Image via Northwestern Mutual.

Using the immersive program, Hoag was able to help Jamie endure his procedures with a lot less stress, anxiety, and pain. But it didn’t stop there. Once Jamie saw that Hoag was right about the benefits of VR, he was suddenly much more willing to try her other coping suggestions.

While once he had been anxious and withdrawn, now his virtual reality experience was encouraging Jamie to branch out into actual reality too.

Now, Hoag is working with Northwestern Mutual and KindVR to study just how much virtual reality could benefit kids at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and beyond.

In her work thus far, Hoag has mainly looked to solve individual cases of anxiety instead of searching for options that could be applied to help kids all over the country. "But obviously," she says, "having an empirically supported treatment is the best way to treat kids."

Dr. Hoag has been letting her patients try VR informally, and is getting ready to conduct a clinical study on its benefits. Image via Northwestern Mutual.

That’s why she’s preparing to apply the solution she saw work so well with Jamie to a clinical study that could result in VR programs being implemented in children’s hospitals nationwide.

Not only could VR provide a more effective way to treat patient discomfort, it could also increase the number of children that could benefit from the hospital's psychological intervention program. With VR, many hospital staff — not just psychologists — can help patients use the equipment.

Right now, only cases that are extreme enough merit a visit from a psychologist. But if Hoag’s research proves that VR treatment is effective, hospitals could drastically increase the amount of kids receiving anxiety treatment without having to hire more staff.

Image via iStock.

For kids enduring a chronic illness, the calming effects of VR could be life-changing.

Drawing blood might not seem traumatic, but after months of frequent treatments, it can be.

"The average adolescent is having an IV maybe never, or if anything, maybe once or twice through the course of their childhood," Hoag says. "These patients are coming in sometimes multiple times a week and having this done. So the anticipation of knowing you have to have a needle is really stressful for kids, and by the time they even get to the hospital, they're pretty worked up about it."

Image via iStock.

For many, the excitement of getting to use a piece of virtual reality software can help temper those feelings of nervousness or nausea, which can improve a child's life overall by a lot.

In the end, that's what Hoag is hoping to do: make the lives of kids with cancer just a little bit easier.

Image via iStock.

"Going through cancer treatment is probably the hardest thing that these kids will ever do — not just as children, in adolescence, but in their entire lives," Hoag says. That's the motivation behind her research and the efforts that Northwestern Mutual has made to sponsor similar quality of life projects to help kids with cancer.

"If there are things that we can offer that improve their quality of life or improve their experience while undergoing cancer treatment, that's absolutely something that we want to do."

Image to via Northwestern Mutual.

Northwestern Mutual is the marketing name for The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and its subsidiaries. Learn more at northwesternmutual.com.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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