Helping Oncology Patients Gets Personal for Child Life Specialist 

For more than a decade, Betsy Philbrick has helped families dealing with cancer.

Now, the Child Life Specialist for pediatric oncology at Eastern Maine Medical Center finds herself on the receiving end of care.

Joy Hollowell explains.
Treating kids as they go through cancer treatment. That’s what Betsy Philbrick has done for the past 13 years at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

“My role is to help children kind of normalize that, so that it’s not so scary,” explains Philbrick. “Unfortunately it becomes their norm, but it’s something they can cope with.”

Philbrick has helped countless families as they cope with the disease and all the ups and down that come with it.

“I think in order to do this line of work, there has to be a level of separation so that you don’t take it home,” she says. “I know in the early years, I did more so and then the more you do it, the more you realize that you have to have that buffer in order to go back in and deal with it the next day.”

But this past July, Philbrick’s two worlds collided.

“I had noticed a lump.”

Philbrick thought it was a clogged milk duct from breastfeeding. An ultrasound showed nothing unusual.

“So we had it removed and it was sent off to pathology. And on a Sunday afternoon, Dr. Smith called us,” says Philbrick. “I had asked him on the phone if I had cancer and he said ‘yes.'”

Stage 3 breast cancer. The 37-year old has no family history.

“It definitely caught me by surprise,” says Betsy’s husband, Peter Philbrick. “I mean, one moment we’re camping on Joe Mary Lake and another moment, we’re home dealing with cancer, the very next day.”

“For me, we went the double mastectomy road,” explains Betsy Philbrick. “And I think I’m now 16 weeks into chemotherapy out of 20. And then I will do radiation.”

At first, Philbrick kept her diagnosis private, concerned her oncology patients had too much on their plate to worry about her. But then, the professional turned patient got a dose of her own medicine.

“The kids and families that I’ve provided care for in the past are kind of helping me get through this,” she says with a smile. “You know, obviously my husband is helping me and my family is helping me but I think a lot of what I’ve learned from little kids has been a huge help as far as helping me get through this.”

Philbrick hopes to return to work in January.

“I look forward to going back because I know I’ll have a different perspective,” says Philbrick. “I think that for parents as well, knowing where I’ve been and the advice I’m giving isn’t just professional advice, but it’s also advice from my heart.”
You can learn more about Team Betsy at

A spaghetti dinner and raffle is being held Tuesday, December 17th to help the Philbrick family with expenses. It will go from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. At Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor, Katahdin Hall.

Peter Philbrick is a graduate of the Bangor Region Leadership Institute, Class of 2013.