Terry, Esmerio & Vitela Story
Our "Kidz Group" began in January 2006 for children (ages 7 – 17) whose parent or loved one has cancer. The goal of this group is to provide a safe place for them to learn about cancer, share their feelings and have some fun. Demystifying the cancer experience by actually getting to see where their parent gets treatment (chemotherapy chairs and radiation machine) also helps kids accept and understand what is happening. What has resulted is a large group of children who better understand cancer and are wise beyond their years in facing reality.
I was privileged to talk with three families and hear exactly what a kid’s perspective really is. Let me introduce The Terry’s—Kyra is 9 and Jerry is 7 years old – their Dad was diagnosed with lymphoma last July. The Esmerio’s – Alex is 16, Christian is 13, and Adrian is 8 years old—Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2005. The Vitela’s—Jennifer is 15, Alex is 13, and Esther is 9 years old—Mom was diagnosed with uterine cancer two years ago.
Cancer is scary—even for adults to hear, cope with, and accept. These kids shared their scariest moment—"When my dad had a tube in his nose and lost a lot of blood," shared Jerry. Christian asked, when told by his Mom that she had cancer, "Are you going to die?" and Mom replied "I don’t know." For Jennifer it was when her mom started losing her hair and Alex E. and Esther both said, "Seeing my Mom cry." But all these kids had good things and times to share with me! The Esmerio’s got to take a great vacation, attend Camp Keepsake,* and hosted a two year post diagnosis surprise party for their Mom. Jennifer said, "My family grew closer through all of this." And the Terry’s had a special visit from their Grandpa from New York.
When asked what they would tell a friend, whose parent was just diagnosed with cancer I heard, "You’ll get through it—treatment helps them get better," said Alex E. Christian offered, "Have some fun too—go with me to the Kidz Group." Jennifer would tell her, "I know it’s painful to hear because you don’t expect it," and Esther said, "Don’t worry —if you need help or are sad you can talk with me." Jerry would help him forget by playing with him and reminding him to think about happy things, not sad. These very empathetic kids are going to become adults who are ready to help friends and family through everything from the everyday crisis to the always unexpected things life throws in their way.
What’s best about Kidz Group? I heard, "The pizza," from Jerry and "Getting to learn about cancer—it helped me understand," from Kyra. Alex E., Christian and Adrian like the activities, (making collages from magazines and cards for their Mom) and the friends they made. Jennifer, Alex V. and Esther all enjoy the socializing with others going through the same thing they are going through.
I believe, from all of their responses, that Kidz Group is meeting their goal! This group is led by Ed Aluzas, a Marriage and Family Therapist; David Pearce, a Medical Social Worker; and, Kimberly Gilfillan, our Clinical Trials Coordinator. This team brings understanding, education, caring, acceptance and laughter to the kids in this group.
The Kidz Group meets the first Thursday of every month at 5:00 pm. Many of the parents attend the "When Cancer Enters Your Life," support group that meets at the same day and time. The parents get a chance to share their own concerns while knowing their kids are getting the special help and understanding they need. If you would like to know more about this group, or to sign your kids up to attend, call Kimberly Gilfillan at (909) 865-9890 x 2875.
Marketing Coordinator and Managing Editor
*Editor’s Note: Camp Keepsake is a weekend retreat for those who have a loved one being treated for cancer. For more information contact Kimberly Gilfillan at the above phone number.