Psychosocial care eases the stress of treatment

Sophie Pettengill

Sophie Pettengill
Sophie Pettengill

Dana-Farber’s Pediatric Psychosocial Oncology team supported Sophie and her family through every stage of Sophie’s diagnosis and treatment

Sophie was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) at two-and-a-half years old. When she first came to Dana-Farber, her severe procedural anxiety made even having her blood pressure checked a traumatic event. To help Sophie adjust, she was paired with Deborah Berk, MSW, LICSW, a social worker in the Division of Pediatric Psychosocial Oncology, who supported Sophie by accompanying her to procedures, reading to her, and identifying helpful distractions. Within a few months, Sophie's anxiety had decreased from "terrified and screaming, to hopping up on the table for treatment," says her mother, Julia.

Psychosocial services supported not only Sophie, but also the entire family throughout every stage of her diagnosis and treatment. On Sophie's second day of treatment, a member of the team visited the family to ask about her sister, Ava. "When I asked why, I was struck by the guidance they gave that 'at the end of treatment, you want both the patient and the siblings healthy and thriving'," Julia says. "They helped Ava see that Sophie's cancer diagnosis was happening to her, too, and gave her a place in this journey. I am always going to appreciate their attention on the siblings."

Julia found the many resources provided by the pediatric psychosocial oncology team— including language to use when speaking to family and friends about Sophie's care, coping strategies for the whole family during treatment, and mental health supports for transitioning after Sophie had completed treatment—were all an invaluable part of the care received at Dana-Farber.

Sophie Pettengill

Sophie today

"When your child is diagnosed with cancer, you think, 'OK we are just going to have to get through this—it's going to be hell'," Julia says. "But then this team comes along and helps your family with strategies to cope and to bring the anxiety down. You realize that there can still be quality of life, that you can find joy in the midst of crisis. They were really committed to our family having the healthiest experience emotionally, psychologically, and medically."


Read more about Sophie as a child, and learn how Dana-Farber's BEADS Program helped her get through treatment.

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