Many pediatric hospitals have ongoing support groups for children with cancer. Often these are run by experienced pediatric social workers, who know how to balance fun with sharing feelings. For many children, these groups are the only place where they feel completely accepted, where most of the other kids are bald and have to take lots of medicine. The group is a place where children or adolescents can say how they really feel, without worrying that they are causing their parents more pain. Many children form wonderful and lasting friendships in peer groups.
I went to Junior Candlelighters, which was very helpful. The gal who facilitated the group was a survivor of osteosarcoma and had had her leg amputated. Yet, she skied, she drove, she did everything. I always thought, "If Patty can do it, I can, too. If she can live so well without a leg, I should be able to put up with having a cancer in my blood."
All four of my kids have been going to the support groups for over seven years now. We have one group for the kids with cancer, which is run by a social worker. The siblings group is run by a woman who specializes in early childhood development. Both groups do a lot of art therapy, relaxation therapy, playing, and talking. They meet twice a month, and I will continue to take them until they ask to stop. I think it has really helped all of them. We also have two teen nights out a year All of the teenagers with cancer get together for an activity such as watching a hockey game or basketball game, or going bowling, to the movies, or out for pizza. They also see each other at our local camp for children surviving cancer (Camp Watcha-Wanna-Do) each year.
Kristin goes to the kids' support group while my wife and I attend the parents' group downstairs. She doesn't talk much about what goes on, but the facilitator keeps the parents apprised of how things are going. One very vocal 9-year-old boy has recently broken the ice with the kids. He really likes to talk about his feelings about having leukemia, and it has prompted the other children to begin to share their thoughts and reactions about the things that have happened to them. They also have lots of fun.
For children who are too ill or shy to join a group, there are alternatives. There are hundreds of kids who use computers to contact and chat with other kids in similar situations. Use Appendix D to access some of the available computer groups.
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