Children often say they want to be a firefighter or an astronaut when they grow up. Maybe even an artist. Emily Jones had plans like those too, but it took beating cancer at age 6 to truly realize what she wanted to be when she grew up — a child life specialist.
The freshman from Irving, Texas, was just 10 days shy of her fourth birthday and excited about her party when she developed a fever that spiked over 104 degrees. Her parents took her in to see her pediatrician who initially couldn’t find a reason for the fever.
“We went to my doctor who was checking the normal stuff and then she felt my kidneys,” said Jones. “They were both very hard.” Fortunately, the pediatrician had recently seen another patient with the same symptoms.
Further testing would reveal that Jones had stage five bilateral nephroblastoma — kidney cancer. She would endure eight surgeries, five months of chemotherapy and six days of radiation therapy. While Jones vividly remembers the medical team who saved her life, she also remembers the role her child life specialist had in her treatment and recovery for both her and her family.
“For a child, it can be a difficult transition from your home to living in a hospital,” Jones said. “The specialist was there helping a 4-year-old understand what chemo is, helping my 2-year-old sister understand what was happening to her sister and being a mediator between us and the doctors. That was important to my whole family.”
That experience stuck with Jones as she grew up.
“At 6 years old I was telling all of my friends I wanted to be an oncologist,” Jones said. “I learned that wasn’t exactly for me, but I still wanted to give back to children who had been sick, too.”
Jones said conversations kept leading her back to being a child life specialist, but one summer experience sealed the deal. “I attended Camp John Marc, a camp for kids with cancer, and there were doctors and CLSs there and I got to see examples of how they help other kids.”
When it came time for college, Jones researched, applied to and was accepted at several schools offering child life programs.
“UA had one of the best programs and was very competitive,” Jones said. “They offered great scholarships and honors program so I came and toured the campus and learned about what these programs could mean for me.”
“Within a week I knew where I wanted to be and I committed to The University of Alabama.”
Majoring in human development and family studies, Jones is also part of the University of Alabama Dance Marathon organization, which raises funds for Children’s Hospital of Alabama, and was recently accepted into the Blackburn Institute. The Blount Scholars student believes she’s found her calling and UA is putting her on the best path. Her story will come full circle this summer when she joins the staff of Camp John Marc for the entire summer.
“They have different weeks for children going through cancer, asthma and other medical challenges,” she said. “I’m so excited to be working there.”
As a child with cancer, I saw firsthand the amazing work of child life specialists and without their help, I might not be where I am today,” Jones added. “I hope to be an advocate for kids who are on a journey they never thought they’d be on.”
Learn more about the child life specialist path and many others by visiting the College of Human Environmental Sciences website.
Jennifer Brady, UA Strategic Communications, email@example.com