September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, so I am so honored to highlight this week’s Smarty Mom, Dr. Amii Steele. Dr. Steele is a pediatric psychologist with Levine Children’s Hospital (LCH) in Charlotte. In short, her job is to help children and their families with the psychological aspects of their medical diagnosis and treatment. But the huge fact is this: what she is doing for the patients and families at LCH and for our community as a whole is simply amazing. She’s a mom, wife, and doctor making a big difference to many. Thank you to Dr. Steele for sitting down for this interview! Smarties, I hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I did.
Smarty Mom: Dr. Amii Steele
Married to: Walt Steele, 7 years
Mom to: Charlotte, 15 months
Years in Charlotte: 5.5 years
Hometown: Winston-Salem, NC
Part of Charlotte you call home: Lake Norman
Alma Mater: Clemson University, Go Tigers!!
Occupation: Pediatric Psychologist, Levine Children’s Hospital
Tell us what you do for Levine Children’s Hospital.
I am a pediatric psychologist and psychosocial manager for LCH’s Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Blood and Marrow Transplant Center. I provide psychological care for children and families affected by cancer and blood disorders. I also manage our wonderful psychosocial support team.
What brought you into this role?
I received my PhD in Clinical Psychology with a specialization in working with patients with medical illness. My clinical training focused on working with patients and families affected by cancer and blood disorders. After completing fellowship I moved back to the Charlotte area and started working at LCH.
What’s the best part of your job?
The patients and families that I get to meet. It is truly a privilege to share in a family’s journey.
The most difficult part of my job is supporting patients and families when the outcome of their treatment is not what we would have hoped.
What’s one thing you’d tell a parent whose child was just diagnosed with cancer?
It is absolutely ok and normal to feel a wide range of emotions: disbelief, anger, sadness, shock, and fear can all be experienced in under an hour. Know that you are much stronger than you think and there are many people at your hospital and in your community who will be there along the way to support you.
What advice would you give to that parent’s best friend on how she can be supportive?
Offer to help your friend and truly mean it. Do the things that she doesn’t want to ask for–offer to be the backup childcare, car service for siblings, pick up dry cleaning, have their home cleaned, offer to fundraise, bring coffee or food to the hospital, small gestures of support without a parent having to ask can go a long way to help families.
How do you empower a child who has been diagnosed to stay positive? How about the parents?
That is a really great question. It is so commonly believed that you must remain positive as a patient or family member in order to “get through” a serious illness. When in fact expressing your emotions, allowing yourself to feel and working through even difficult, negative emotions can be very beneficial. I like to use the rule of thumb with patients and parents that experiencing a down day or a very intense time of worry is totally normal, however if more of your days are sad and filled with worry then it’s probably best to seek help.
How do you see a pediatric cancer diagnosis affecting a marriage?
Cancer impacts the entire family and your marriage is no exception. It is even more important than ever to practice open communication through this very stressful time, remember positive things that can sustain your relationship when you’re having a bad day and try to prioritize time alone with your spouse, even if it is 5 minutes in the hallway between shifts at the hospital or after your kids are in bed at night.
How do you see it affecting siblings?
Siblings feel the impact of a cancer diagnosis intensely. It is very important to make them a part of the treatment process in an age appropriate way. Explain what is happening in a clear, truthful way. Use hospital staff such as child life specialists and social workers to support your entire family. Try as much as possible to keep their schedule as normal as possible and make time to spend one on one with each sibling.
What are some ways you help families cope when the diagnosis is terminal?
Every family is different, but helping families learn their own strengths is important. I try to use the positive coping skills that each member of the family brings and build from there. Children and their families are amazingly resilient and often end up teaching me so much during this journey. As a medical team we support a family no matter the outcome, which I think can be comforting to hear when treatment is no longer curative.
What are some resources in Charlotte that are available to help families in their journey?
At LCH we have a large psychosocial support staff comprised of child life specialists, licensed clinical social workers, pediatric psychologists and a palliative care team, in addition to support groups. Online, trusted resources such as Momcology can also be helpful to parents as can local therapists.
Moving on to lighter questions…
Favorite baby gear? Dock a Tot was a lifesaver when my daughter was younger. Also, any sort of carrier is great for multi-tasking!
What you’d do on an unexpected day off? I’d have a slow morning actually enjoying my coffee, spend time with my daughter and husband outdoors, cook and enjoy a nice glass of red wine.
Best date night spot? Kindred in Davidson
Thing you’re most looking forward to as the weather cools off? Hiking in the mountains and all things pumpkin.
Best part of being a mom? Seeing the world through the eyes of my daughter and also getting the warmest greeting at the end of a long workday is absolutely the best!