There is no doubt that for those battling cancer or blood disorders, every day can be a struggle. Between rigorous treatments, physical and mental therapy sessions and schedule changes to accommodate health issues, it can be overwhelming. But when these people happen to be students as well, life suddenly becomes more difficult.
No one knows these difficulties more than the patients in Stony Brook Children’s Hospital’s School Intervention and Re-Entry Program. SIRE is an internationally recognized free program composed of doctors, nurses and child life specialists.
The program offers guidance and support through the challenging process of reintegration into society and everyday life for people with pediatric cancers or blood disorders, by providing a sense of normalcy and purpose.
“If you are a student or the family of [a] student, you are carrying an educational burden but also a very overwhelming medical one,” said Debra Giugliano, pediatric nurse practitioner and director of the program.
Aside from its main goal of re-acclimating patients into everyday life, the program also serves as a distraction from the challenges posed by illness and treatments. SIRE doesn’t just serve those being treated for cancers and blood disorders. It accommodates patients, as well as their families and school faculty members too.
By working closely with patient counselors, teachers and school nurses, SIRE seeks to facilitate the patient’s transition from treatment back into the classroom. Junior history and political science major and former patient with SIRE, Billy Brennan, knows first hand just what a positive impact the program can have.
“The program has helped me with paying for my college, as I have received a scholarship from [Stony Brook University] for the past few years,” he said. “The people at Stony Brook Children’s have always been very helpful though. Whenever I have had difficulty or long term effects from my treatment, they are an invaluable tool for past patients.”
In addition to providing basic support to their patients, SIRE hosts events that offer more insight into life with cancer. On Sept. 18, SIRE offered a college workshop and expo for students with cancer and blood disorders.
The event was open to middle and high school students suffering from chronic illness seeking to acclimate themselves back into everyday life, specifically academia. Among the speakers were David Gordon, Ph.D, Anthony Gallonio, founder of the National GRACE Foundation that provides college admission supervision and financial aid to cancer patients and survivors, and Stony Brook Senior Associate Dean of Admissions Robert Pertusati. With the advice of experts in college admission and representatives of illness-related organizations, attendees explored everything from navigating college options and campus life to financial aid and counseling.
“We had a lot more people than we anticipated,” Giugliano said. “All the feedback was really positive and encouraging us to make the workshop an annual event. I think it was really because for our patients and their families, it was the perfect opportunity to ask sensitive questions in a safe and protected environment because we could actually facilitate the entire process rather than have them walk to a college fair with 1,000-plus people.”
Most students can attest to the fact that preparing for college is difficult enough without having a major health issue. The School Intervention and Re-Entry Program seeks to facilitate the difficulties of those who have to tackle both.