Former Patient Returns as Child Life Specialist

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

You might think that a child who endured a yearslong battle with cancer would never want to set foot in a hospital again. Not Lauren Newman.

Newman was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 1999, when she was 3 years old. She was treated at Stanford Medicine Children Health’s Bass Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Diseases for several years before her family moved to Dallas, where her journey continued. Her leukemia recurred twice, and she ultimately required a stem cell transplant to cure her.

Dr. Michael Link and Lauren Newman in 2001
Lauren Newman in 2001, when she was a patient of Dr. Michael Link.

Now, Newman is back at Stanford Children’s, helping kids get through similarly stressful and scary experiences as a child life specialist. Child life specialists use developmentally appropriate education and play to help children and families feel prepared and supported throughout their health care journey.

“Child life specialists get the privilege of holding patients’ and families’ hands throughout their medical journey, helping them cope and navigate through potentially stressful situations,” Newman shared.

Newman remembers benefiting from Child Life support as a patient at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford more than 20 years ago, and she has come to realize that she has been working with a handful of people who provided care to her in the past, including two child life specialists in the Child Life and Creative Arts Department.

“Everyone’s cancer journey is very different,” Newman said. “Mine was definitely scary and hard at times, but the biggest difference for me was the network of family, friends, and members of the health care team who were supporting me. I really think that played a huge role in my ability to cope with the experiences in front of me.”

Newman realized her desire to help others going through illness and treatment similar to the way she was supported as a child through pursuing a master’s in child life therapy.

“I wanted to give back in some way, to be an advocate and support others, as I knew how much encouragement I had throughout my cancer treatment,” she said. “With Child Life, not only do I get to help kids feel unafraid of the hospital, but I can also try to bring back joy and help them with coping, preparation, and education. Because I was once in their shoes, I can see how important this can be for a child. Growing up, I always thought of the hospital as a safe place. Somebody did something right to make that happen. My positive experiences helped to shape my perception of the world of health care and push me back to Child Life.”

When it was time for her clinical internship, Newman applied to hospitals all over the country and was ultimately selected by Stanford Children’s. After her internship, she was hired as a full-time child life specialist. At that moment, there was only one position available, and it happened to be in oncology.

“It just kept getting more and more full circle,” she said. “It’s almost like this job sought me out.”

Newman has drawn on her own experiences many times to support patients and families.

“Having my own personal experiences has given me a strong sense of appreciation, compassion, and reason to advocate for my own patients,” she said. “I have never shared my personal journey with any of my patients, but I believe the experience has allowed me to provide better care, help to create a calming environment, empathize and connect with patients, and support each patient according to their unique needs.”

Lauren Newman and Dr. Michael Link in 2023
Newman and Link in 2023.

In addition to her Child Life colleagues, Newman has worked alongside many familiar faces in the Bass Center, including her oncologist from more than 20 years ago, Michael Link, MD.

“I remember how Dr. Link made me feel as a patient—he was always someone who was very soft-spoken, calm, warm, and inviting,” Newman said. “I still observe this in my work with him day-to-day. This can make a huge difference for a patient, helping them to feel calm and comfortable and that the hospital is a safe space.”

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

“Being a pediatric oncologist, you develop a very different relationship with families and kids,” he said. “I still have relationships with patients I took care of 35 to 40 years ago. What else could you hope for but to see someone you took care of a long time ago all grown up and doing something worthwhile?”

Dr. Link sees how Newman’s firsthand experience with cancer treatment helps her connect with patients on a deeper level.

“Having had the experience, she brings something to the table that we practitioners who haven’t been there can’t begin to convey,” he said. “That’s one of the magical things about Lauren.”

After almost a year and a half working in oncology, Newman recently transitioned out of the Bass Center and into a new child life role, supporting patients in Perioperative Services undergoing surgery. She will still occasionally see oncology patients who might be having surgery to remove a tumor, central line, or port, which typically signals the end of treatment. She is excited to continue working alongside people like Dr. Link, who helped her get through her treatment more than two decades ago.

“It is pretty extraordinary that we can support a patient together and collaborate in that way,” she said. “It’s such a small world, and it keeps getting smaller.”

Learn more about our Child Life and Creative Arts Department >


One Response to “Former Patient Returns as Child Life Specialist”

  1. Anh Singh

    Thank you, Amy Brooks, for sharing great inspiring posts! And big kudos to Lauren Newman!


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