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

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While once he had been anxious and withdrawn, now his virtual reality experience was encouraging Jamie to branch out into actual reality too.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

Heroes
True
Northwestern Mutual

There are reasonable arguments to be had on all sides of America's debates about guns.

Then there are NRA lobbyists.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Florida National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer spoke to state economists last week to explain why a proposed assault weapons ban would devastate gun manufacturers in the state. The proposed amendment, which is being led by the aunt of a student killed in the Parkland school shooting, would ban the future sale of assault rifles in Florida and mandate that current owners either register their guns with the state or give them up.

The back and forth between those proposing and opposing the amendment appears to be a pretty typical gun legislation debate. Only this time, the NRA lobbyist pulled out one of the most bizarre arguments I've seen yet.

Keep Reading Show less
Democracy

Graphic helps identify what triggers you emotionally in relationships

Knowing your triggers helps you manage your emotions.

via Blessing Manifesting / Instagram

Learning your emotional triggers on your own is one thing but figuring out your triggers in a relationship adds another layer of intensity. Maybe you're afraid of being abandoned or want to feel the need to push the other person away but you don't know why.

If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. It's why artist and mental health advocate Dominee Wyrick created a graphic to help you identify what triggers you in relationships.

Keep Reading Show less
Well Being
via PixaBay

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has brought a lot of attention to the idea of implementing a universal basic income on America. His "freedom dividend" would pay every American $1,000 a month to spend as they choose.

In addition to helping Americans deal with a future in which the labor market will be upended by automation, this basic income could allow Americans to rethink what we see as work and nurture what Yang calls a "human-centered" economy.

Keep Reading Show less
Family
Capital One

Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


Capital One

Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

Future Edge
True
Capital One