Jen Gelberger, a Chai Lifeline Case Manager, reflects on her return to Chai Lifeline after a year away on maternity leave

It is hard to believe that I have been back at Chai Lifeline for just over three months now. It almost feels like I never left! After taking a year maternity leave, I jumped right back into a full caseload that is unfortunately continuing to grow on a regular basis. While the demands of the case manager job are great, and the hours are long and unpredictable, I truly feel it is a privilege to be able to do such meaningful work day in and day out. I am inspired daily by the inner strength people find within themselves, and to see how parents advocate for their children.

It has been wonderful to reconnect with old clients and establish relationships with new ones. It is a great feeling to offer people tickets to sports games, shows, local events and attractions that I know will really give them the boost they need during the rough times.

As a case manager I get to spend time with families in all different settings. While there is something nice about meeting up for a coffee or lunch in the community, there is also something very special about being in a hospital room with a family. What I like best about going to the hospital is that I get a chance to play with the child who is the patient, as well as be there for the parents. People often ask if its hard to see kids who are so sick- which obviously it is, but the positive thing is we are the visitors the kids want to see! They know when the case managers from Chai Lifeline come to visit we bear toys and treats and not needles or meds!

One of the initiatives I have recently been working on with my colleagues is creating various groups. We now have quite a few teen clients with cancer. They all have their own phones, and can make their own plans, and call and text. This teen group is special because they are mature enough to openly reflect on their illnesses, and how it has affected them and their relationships with their other friends, who often don’t understand how or why they feel the way they do.  This group has molded into a support group of its own. Like any other group we started with a Whats-app chat and now have evolved into an amazing cohesive group!

This past week I had the privilege of hearing two of these teen clients share their personal experiences with Cancer and Chai Lifeline in front of an audience. They both opened up and shared their feelings and what this journey has been like for them as individuals and their families. Despite being nervous to get up and speak in front of strangers, afterwards they each shared how cathartic the experience was for them. I personally found this so inspiring to hear. Although it was very hard for their parents to listen to them recount the horrors, it was incredible to see the look of pride the parents shared as their daughters spoke.

As I often tell people the reason I am willing to work full time and leave my own children is because I am fortunate to have a position that I feel is meaningful, and therefore I can enjoy, despite all the sadness and pain I encounter.  I love working in an environment that is constantly growing and evolving, and new ideas are always welcome.