Former Patient Returned as Child Life Specialist

Dr. Michael Link and Lauren Newman in front of Lucille Salter-Packard Children's Hospital in Stanford.

A child who has endured a long battle with cancer may never want to set foot in the hospital again. Not Lauren Newman.

Neumann was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in 1999 at the age of three. She was treated for several years at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health’s Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders Bus Center before her family moved to Dallas, where her journey continued. Her leukemia recurred twice and ultimately required a stem cell transplant for her treatment.

Lauren Newman in 2001, a patient of Dr. Michael Link.

Now, Neumann is back at Stanford Children’s Center as a child life specialist helping children navigate similarly stressful and frightening experiences. Childlife professionals use developmentally appropriate education and play to help children and families feel prepared and supported in the health care process.

“Child life professionals are privileged to hold patients and families by the hand throughout treatment, helping them cope with and survive potentially stressful situations,” Newman said.

Newman recalls being a patient on Child Life Support more than 20 years ago as a patient at Stanford University’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, and recalls several people who have provided him with care in the past. I realized that I was working with Among them were her two children. Life Specialist in the Child Life and Creative Arts Department.

“Everyone’s cancer process is very different,” says Newman. “For me, it has certainly been scary and difficult, but the biggest difference for me has been my network of supportive family, friends and members of the medical team. I really think it played a big role in my ability to deal with the experience of

With a Master’s degree in Child Life Therapy, Neumann has tapped into her desire to help those who are ill and undergoing treatment in the same way that she was supported when she was a child. I noticed.

“Knowing how much I had been encouraged during my cancer treatment, I wanted to give back in some way and become an advocate to support others,” she said. “With ChildLife, I can not only help my children not be afraid of the hospital, but also bring back joy and help them cope, prepare and educate. You can see how important it is for children.Ever since I was a child, I always thought that the hospital was a safe place.Somebody did the right thing to make that happen.My positive experience helped shape my perception of the medical world and put me back into child life.”

When it came time for clinical practice, Ms. Neumann applied to hospitals across the country and was eventually selected at Stanford Children’s Hospital. After her internship, she was employed as a full-time Child Life Specialist. At that point she had only one open position and it happened to be in oncology.

“It came full circle,” she said. “It’s like this job wanted me.”

Neumann has used his experience many times to support patients and families.

“My own personal experience has given me a strong sense of gratitude, compassion, and a reason to advocate for my patients,” she said. “Although I have never shared my personal journey with any of my patients, the experience has helped me to provide better care, create a calming environment, empathically connect with my patients, and treat each patient as an individual. I believe that we can now support them according to their needs.”

Newman and Link in 2023.

In addition to her ChildLife colleagues, Ms. Neumann has worked with many familiar faces at the bus center, including medical oncologist Dr. Michael Link, who worked with her more than 20 years ago.

“I remember how Dr. Link made me feel as a patient. He was always very soft-spoken, gentle, warm, and charming,” Newman said. “I still observe this in my daily work with him. I can.”

For Dr. Link, working with Newman is a reminder of why he loves being a pediatric oncologist.

“Being a pediatric oncologist, you have a very different relationship with your family and your children,” he says. “I still keep in touch with the patients I worked with 35-40 years ago. Can you do it?”

Dr. Link sees how Newman’s first-hand experience with cancer care has helped her connect with patients on a deeper level.

“Her experience brings something to the table that we practitioners who haven’t been to the field can’t convey,” he said. “That’s one of the strange things about Lauren.”

After working in oncology for about a year and a half, Neumann recently left Bath Center to transition into a new pediatric role supporting patients undergoing surgery at perioperative services. She still occasionally sees oncology patients who may have surgery to remove the tumor, midline, or port, but these patients are usually the end-of-treatment surgery. She’s thrilled to continue working with people like Dr. Link, who helped her get through therapy over 20 years ago.

“It’s really cool that we can support patients and work together like this,” she said. “The world is so small and it’s getting smaller and smaller.”

Learn more about the Child Life and Creative Arts departments >

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