Talking to Your Child or Teen about COVID-19

Talking to your child about COVID-19

It’s important to have an open, honest conversation with your child about the coronavirus to help support their needs and understanding during this stressful time. No matter the age of your child, determining what your child already knows will help you to gain insight into how they are interpreting what is happening around them. It can be difficult to know how to answer your child’s questions and what information to share with them, so here are some tips on how to talk with your child about COVID-19.

For the Preschool-Age Child (3-5 years old)

A preschool-age child’s developmental understanding of illness is vague, simplistic, and magical (belief that one’s own thoughts, wishes or desires can influence the external world). Children in this age group are typically able to understand that if someone is sick, they might have a cough/not feel good and need to go to the doctor. Simple explanations such as, “we have to stay at home so we don’t get sick,” to explain why your child’s daily routine has changed are typically sufficient. This age group often believes that an illness or change in routine are punishment; it is important to reassure your child that they did not cause coronavirus and they are not being punished as events are canceled.

For the School-Age Child (6-11 years old)

The typical school-age child is able to comprehend external causes of illness and needs specific, detailed information about the illness to meet their developmental needs. This age group typically can comprehend an explanation along the lines of the following:

  • COVID-19 is a new type of virus that is making people sick, it might cause someone to have a cough, fever, or body aches.
  • A virus is so small that we cannot see it with our eyes; this is why washing your hands is very important, especially before eating or touching your face.
  • Right now, it’s important that we stay at home and not go to school, the playground, etc., to help us stay healthy.

It is important to let your child lead the conversation; the goal is to help alleviate your child’s worries or fears. Sometimes providing additional, unwanted information can create the opposite effect.

For Teens/Adolescents (12-18 years old)

Teenagers are typically able to understand and comprehend various causes of illnesses, prevention, and symptoms. This age group often feels “invincible,” so it’s key to remind your teen that it is still important to practice social distancing and good hand hygiene, despite their young age. Ask your teen what they know about COVID-19 and clear any misconceptions they might have heard/seen on social media or the internet. Being open and honest, while also validating your teen’s fears and worries is important for this age group.

Children and teens react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. If parents seem overly worried, children’s anxiety may rise. Parents should reassure children that health officials are working hard to ensure that people throughout the country stay healthy.

There are many ways to support your child during this uncertain time. When sharing information, it’s important to provide facts without promoting a high level of stress, to remind children that adults are working to address this concern, and to give children actions they can take to protect themselves. Teaching children positive preventive measures, talking with them about their fears, and giving them a sense of some control over their risk of infection can help reduce anxiety.

Jennifer Duncanson, MS, CCLS
Heather Oakley, LCSW, OSW-C

Patient Spotlight: Vito Grippo

A Life That Sparkles After Proton Therapy

Never did Vito and Suellen Grippo imagine that a loose gemstone in Suellen’s wedding ring would end up saving Vito’s life - twice. But, a chance encounter with a jeweler who was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute did just that.

Vito Grippo
Vito and Suellen Grippo

Vito and Suellen live in Myrtle Beach, SC, but Vito had business interests on the east coast of Florida and the couple traveled there several times a year. During one of their visits, Suellen noticed the loose gemstone. “I called a local jeweler and asked if he could repair the ring,” Suellen recalled. “He told me that he could but that I would have to wait a while, as he was traveling more than two hours each way, each day, for prostate cancer treatment. I was surprised to hear that he was willing to travel so far, and asked him where he was being treated. He told me he was going to the proton therapy institute in Jacksonville that was run by UF.”

Suellen didn’t give the information much thought until Vito was diagnosed with prostate cancer in November of 2014. But the jeweler’s detail about proton therapy, along with anecdotal accounts from acquaintances who were also undergoing treatment at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute and other proton therapy centers quickly convinced the Grippos that they should investigate it for Vito’s treatment as well.

“My urologist wasn’t for it,” Vito says. “He said it was experimental, and wanted to treat me with a more standard approach. But, I wasn’t a candidate for robotic surgery for a number of reasons. When I talked to UF Health, they told me they could help.”

Vito had six weeks of proton therapy treatment and came through it with flying colors. The Grippos were surprised not only at how rapidly Vito was able to bounce back, but at the extraordinary support network evident at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute as well. “Everyone was amazing,” Suellen noted. “Not only the doctors, nurses and staff, but the other patients as well. You found yourself forming a support group that resulted in strong friendships. We still see many fellow patients, both at the reunions and socially.”

Vito and Suellen would need that support again, after Vito was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 2017. The diagnosis was startling – a sudden lump in his neck and a sore throat had devastating consequences. Again, their family physician recommended radical treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Vito turned to UF Health Proton Therapy Institute for their opinion. “They told me I would have to have the surgery, there was no avoiding it,” Vito says. “And, this time the treatment was going to be much harder.”

Vito’s new cancer had affected his throat, voice box, and tongue. A neck dissection – a surgical procedure designed to remove most of the affected area – led doctors to warn Vito that he might never be able to speak normally again. And, the radiation therapy would affect his ability to salivate and swallow, which brought about dramatic weight loss. The effect of the therapy was cumulative, meaning that Vito felt his worst as treatment was ending.

Today, Vito Grippo is not only speaking and eating, he is thriving, thanks to daily workouts and an exceptional support system that includes Suellen and the entire team at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. The Grippos remain deeply grateful for the treatment Vito received for both diagnoses, and decided that there was no more powerful way to express their thanks than to provide support in return. Their recent decision to leave their entire estate to UF Health Proton Therapy Institute will help ensure that the life-saving treatment offered here can continue. Vito explains their commitment to UF Health in simple but profound terms. “They saved my life,” he says. “There’s no better reason to give back than that.”

Fabric of Care

Cloth masks for COVID-19

In response to the coronavirus, the group gatherings, luncheons and hands-on art activities have been temporarily suspended, but the helping spirit and support is still going strong. For example, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidelines for wearing masks to include everyone, our artist-in-residence Pamela Gardener took out her scissors, needle, thread and fabric and started sewing. Others on staff and in the community joined in, and before long, there were enough cloth masks to supply every non-clinical employee and every patient with the protection they needed.

“Thank you to everyone who pitched in to help, and thank you to everyone for doing your part to protect yourselves and each other by wearing the cloth masks,” said Bradlee Robbert, director of operations at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute.

Thank you notes from our patients

Read thank you notes from our patients

We appreciate our staff members’ continued commitment and so do our patients who sent these thank you notes this month.

Steven W
Thank you for all that you have done for my son. He finishes his radiation treatments tomorrow. May the Lord bless each of you as you have blessed us.

Liz E.
Thank You for such wonderful dedication to your patients, it is life saving and so appreciated. Stay Safe and Well, sending love from Scotland from a very grateful family

Shelly F.
Thanks for all of your hardwork and dedication, your patients & families definitely appreciate all that you do. Proton Therapy graduate 2017!!

Larry K.
What a great team! Thanks for your dedication and great work!!! I'm a graduate of the proton therapy in 2009 and feel great.

Lynn Marie F.
Bravo Florida Proton! Our time there was amazing. Such a caring and compassionate staff.

Michelle Y.
Their unwavering dedication doesn’t surprise me at all. Thank you for continuing to show up to the fight for the patient, YOU are making a difference. My daughter is living, walking, breathing proof.

Kerstin A.
Sending so much love to you all. You are all amazing and we will never forget any of you. One day we will be back to say hi I hope. For now keep doing the amazing work you are doing and stay safe xxx.

Teresa C.
So proud of all of you and your continued efforts to always put the patients first... love you UFPTI

Cancer doesn't stop during a crisis, and neither does our staff.


Executive Director Message


As we navigate the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19, your health and safety remain our top priority. We are continuing radiation therapy for our patients, including proton therapy, IMRT and SBRT, with extra measures in place to ensure your well-being.

We are in regular contact with public health officials and University of Florida Health experts on the latest information and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for reducing the risk of infection. It is our goal to share information and changes that we make as conditions develop and we adapt to protect patients and staff.

As always, I am grateful for the hard work and commitment our team has shown in protecting not only themselves and their families, but their patients and coworkers as well. I appreciate everyone’s cooperation as we all work together to “flatten the curve” and minimize the threat posed by COVID-19.

Thank you and stay safe.

Stuart L. Klein

Executive Director

New Safety Measures at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute

New Safety Measures at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute

New, enhanced safety measures are in place at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute to ensure every staff member and patient is protected from the threat of COVID-19. We have enacted the following policies:

Limiting Visitors and Caretakers

  • Limit of one caretaker per patient during consult appointments only
  • Caretakers, other than for pediatric patients, are asked to remain outside for all other appointments
  • No children under the age of 12 allowed, unless they are the patient
  • Minimize the amount of supplies you bring into the building
  • Arrive no more than 10 minutes before your scheduled appointment time
  • Leave the building when your appointment is done, please don’t linger
  • On-treatment visits and follow-up visits will be conducted over the phone, unless your case requires a physical examination


  • Please call 904-588-1800 before you come for your cancer treatment if you have any of the following:
    • Fever
    • Cough
    • Shortness of Breath
    • Exposure to someone with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis
    • Traveled outside of the United States in the last 14 days
    • Traveled on a cruise ship in the last 14 days
  • When you arrive at the Institute, you and your caretaker will be screened before you enter the building

Cleaning and Sanitizing

  • Increased the frequency of cleaning facilities and equipment, including high-touch surfaces such as door handles, elevator buttons, reception desk and lobby furniture
  • Added more hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the building
  • Reminding all staff, patients and caretakers to practice good hygiene
    • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content
    • Avoid touching your face, especially eyes, nose and mouth

If you have any questions or concerns, please call 904-588-1800 and ask to speak to Brad Robbert. We appreciate your understanding and cooperation, and look forward to providing you with the best of care during this challenging time.

Steps to Protect Your Family

Protecting Yourself and Your Loved Ones

Now, more than ever, it is important to protect your health and safety, and that of your loved ones. Outside of your visits to UF Health Proton Therapy Institute, there are steps you can take to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Here’s how:

Wash Your Hands

Wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom, sneezing, coughing or being in a public space.

Don’t Touch Your Face

Especially your nose, mouth and eyes. Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue whenever possible, or your elbow, if necessary. Wash your hands immediately after.

Practice Social Distancing

Avoid crowds and close contact with people who are sick, keeping a distance of about 6 feet.


Stock up on supplies like over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, household items and groceries. Patients: Determine who can provide you with care should your caretaker get sick.

Sanitize Your Space

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your home and car, and avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places. Use a tissue or sleeve to cover your finger if you have to touch something.


For additional guidance, go to the official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website:

Executive Director Message


Every New Year brings with it new ideas, new challenges and new promises. As we stand at the very beginning of a new decade, it is appropriate for us to look back at the progress made and our goals for the future.

As a pioneer in proton therapy, we have been and will continue to be at the forefront of new technology, advancements in research and life-saving clinical trials. We’ve treated over 8,500 proton patients, including more than 1,800 pediatric patients. In fact, over the past decade, we have more experience in pediatric proton therapy than anywhere else in the country and remain in the top five proton therapy centers worldwide for number of patients treated.  

With the start of patient treatments in our compact proton therapy gantry, Proteus®ONE, I’m encouraged to know that in 2020 and beyond, we will be able to treat more patients and additional types of cancer.

Our ongoing resolution and promise to you is that we will continue to help patients and future generations become cancer-free with a better quality of life.


Stuart L. Klein

Executive Director

Dr. Nancy P. Mendenhall Named UF Health Cancer Center’s 2019 High-Writer

Nancy P. Mendenhall, MD, and Jonathan D. Licht, MD, director of the UF Health Cancer Center

Congratulations to UF Health Proton Therapy Institute medical director, Nancy P. Mendenhall, MD, for receiving the UF Health Cancer Center’s 2019 High-Writer Award. The award recognizes Dr. Mendenhall’s leadership in research and cutting-edge care for her role as the lead investigator of the highest enrolling cancer-relevant clinical trials within the UF Health medical system.

As medical director, Dr. Mendenhall oversees the research department, including several clinical trials to treat more than 20 types of cancer. She and her team of clinical researchers have published over 150 articles in medical journals that report on patient outcomes, treatment techniques and efficacy of proton therapy.

Dr. Mendenhall is currently lead investigator on three clinical trials – an outcome tracking project, a trial investigating quality of life and side effects from proton therapy vs. IMRT for prostate cancer, and a prospective study comparing outcomes of proton and photon radiation in prostate cancer.

To learn more about these and other current clinical trials, click here.

Santa Joe Delivers Donation for Children

Santa made an un-seasonal stop at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute this month to spread more Christmas cheer to last throughout the year. Inspired by the children undergoing cancer treatment and his late brother, the “original” Santa in the family, proton alum Joe McGee works throughout the Holiday season as a professional Santa in the Atlanta area. Joe generously puts aside the proceeds he earns as Santa Joe and has returned to the Institute every January since 2014 to deliver a donation for the Children’s Fund.

This year, Joe mentioned that people have caught on to his mission and have donated above and beyond to benefit what he has named, “The Santa David Children’s Fund,” in honor of his brother. The funds he and his wife, Dawn, have shared over the last five years have directly impacted hundreds of children and their families by supporting various programs, child life staff and activities that aim to make treatment easier for even the youngest of children and allow them to enjoy being kids.

Santa Joe also makes an appearance every December at the Institute to hear the children’s Christmas wishes and deliver presents. 

“If I can bring joy to one precious little one, then it’s all worth it,” said Joe.

Current patients created an original painting to gift Santa Joe for his generosity, time and talent. You can book a Santa Joe appearance in the Atlanta area by contacting him at or email at


About This Newsletter

The Precision Newsletter is an electronic-only publication that is distributed by email. Each issue is sent monthly to patients, alumni patients and friends of the University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute. As the official newsletter of the Institute, the content is compiled and prepared by our communications representative and approved by the editor Stuart Klein, executive director of UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. Special bulletin newsletters may occasionally be prepared when timely topics and new developments in proton therapy occur. If you would like to send a Letter to the Editor, please click here.


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Knowing how you are feeling during and after treatment is essential to providing you the best care possible and contributes to the care of future patients.