All in the Family

New program helps children adjust to a parent's cancer diagnosis

image of little girl coloring
Watch for announcements of upcoming resources and programs offered by the Families Facing Cancer program. For more information, call 877-907-0859.

One of the first questions a parent might ask when diagnosed with cancer is, "What will I tell my child?" Likewise, a child might ask, "What’s going to happen to my parent?"

Because cancer affects everyone in a family, the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center now offers Families Facing Cancer, a program dedicated to helping children of all ages who have a parent or other adult family member diagnosed with the disease. The program is funded through the generosity of donors.

"Fear of the unknown is a concern for patients and their children," says Program Coordinator Sheila Morris, a childlife specialist from Patient and Family Support Services. "There are many ways we can help by offering suggestions for having conversations with children, information about parenting during illness, developmentally friendly resources, and interactive programs that support children in their understanding and abilities to cope."

For patients who are parents or grandparents, the program has a resource kit for talking with children and aged-based activity books. Kits are available at the Cancer Center's Patient Education Resource Center.

"Come and Visit" Cancer Center tours are hosted periodically for children ages 5-12. The Saturday morning program invites children to visit the Cancer Center, learn about their family member’s care and meet the medical team. Children also participate in a fun art activity with beads and receive special recognitions.

"Hand in Hand beads honor children and the bonds shared with a parent or grandparent," Morris says. "Beads are strung on a cord and represent the child's unique qualities, significant moments and positive interactions during a loved one's care. The child is encouraged to ask questions and express feelings."

Future elements of the Families Facing Cancer Program include a website for children with an adult family member undergoing care, family portraits coordinated by Patient and Family Support Services and opportunities for children to participate in cancer-related service projects.

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Thrive Issue: 
Summer, 2013