September brings to mind a lot of things: Labor Day, back-to-school, apple-picking. There are memorials for the events of September 11th, fundraisers for the PTA, and the beginning of NFL football season. A quick Google search tells me it’s also the month to celebrate International Day of Peace, Hispanic Heritage month, and the autumnal equinox. It’s Childhood Obesity Awareness month, Pain Management Awareness month, and Sepsis Awareness month. I had no idea how many things I wasn’t aware enough of in September! The one I’d like to bring attention to today, however, is Childhood Cancer Awareness month.
I’m sad to say that I know all too many families affected by childhood cancer. I’m guessing you do, too. Just take a look at the stats. (Graphic from Thea’s Star of Hope)
Not only is a cancer diagnosis in a child earth-shaking for the family affected, it can be mind-boggling for friends, classmates, and community members. As parents, we struggle to explain a disease like cancer to ourselves, and much more so to explain it to our children. We wonder how much our children can understand, if the things we say will frighten them, how to help them cope with the possibilities.
I’d like to dedicate my post today to the families and children around the world fighting pediatric cancers, and to provide a list of books on the topic that families can read together or individually to help wrap their minds around it. Some are factual, some are fictional, but they all touch on the topic of pediatric cancers. If you have additional books, websites, movies or other media to recommend, I ask that you include them in the comments below!
1. The Great Katie Kate by Dr. Maitland Deland, a pediatric oncologist herself, was designed to help families and children understand the basic concepts of pediatric cancer and face their fears. In it, a cape-wearing young girl helps another child with a new cancer diagnosis to understand the meaning of cancer and the types of things to expect – simply, clearly, and truthfully.
2. Chemo To The Rescue: A Children’s Book About Leukemia was written by Mary Brent Knutson and her daughter Caitlin Knutson after Caitlin had undergone years of chemotherapy to treat ALL Leukemia. It is intended to serve as an encouraging, explanatory book for children and families, with characters that really speak to and reassure children while providing a good, scientific explanation of what is happening in the body of a child undergoing chemotherapy. You can view the book online or purchase a copy from the Chemo to the Rescue website. While you’re there, take a look at the photo gallery to see Caitlin and her incredible family!
3. Butterfly Kisses and Wishes on Wings by Ellen McVicker and Nancy Hersch (ill.) was originally written to help Nancy explain her cancer diagnosis to her children. Over the years, it has been used by many families to help educate and support children. The website also provides extra resources to help parents/caregivers better use, discuss, and build upon ideas in the book. Check it out here.
4. Upside Down and Backwards: A Sibling’s Journey Through Childhood Cancer by Julie Greves, Katy Tenhulzen and Fred Wilkinson follows Bryce through a roller-coaster of emotions and adjustments as his family deals with his sister’s cancer diagnosis. Written by psychologists and recommended by the American Psychological Association, this book is very useful for understanding the challenges facing families as they battle cancer together.
5. When Billy Went Bald by Julie Morse was inspired by her son Greg’s battle with childhood cancer. Part of the proceeds from sales of the book benefit Sunshine Kids, an organization dedicated to helping kids with cancer have fun and enjoy life. The book is great for undergoing chemotherapy,and also for their friends, as it helps teach them to look beyond the surface and be understanding, caring and compassionate.
6. The Famous Hat by Kate Gaynor was created to help kids preparing for chemotherapy treatment. It can also be very useful for friends, classmates and family to help them understand what the child is going through in the hospital.
7. Because Someone I Love Has Cancer is an activity/workbook to help a child learn about cancer, treatment, supporting their loved one, dealing with the complicated emotions they are feeling, and finding inner sources of strength. Created by the experts at the American Cancer Society, it is appropriate for kids 6-12.
8. Let My Colors Out by Courtney Filigenzi helps children use color to explore the broad range of emotions they may feel while dealing with the cancer diagnosis of a loved one or friend. Beautifully illustrated and sensitive to children’s changing feelings, this is a great choice for kids 4-8.
9. For teens dealing with a friend’s or relative’s cancer diagnosis, the first-hand account of childhood cancer survivor Lindsey VanDyke is an amazing read. Bow Ties, Butterflies and Band-Aids features not just Lindsey’s experiences, but also vignettes giving the point-of-view and feelings of her parents, family and friends during her childhood and young adulthood as she battled recurrent cancer diagnoses.
10. I’m a Kid Living With Cancer by cancer survivor Jenevieve Fischer is a warmly illustrated picture book that is perfect for friends and classmates as well as the child coping with a diagnosis. It thoughtfully describes common procedures like CT scans, IV’s, and blood tests and encourages children to be calm, logical and brave when facing cancer and treatment.
11. (yes, I know I said 10, but I had to include this one) Again for teens, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl manages to be both funny, awkward, poignant and honest. It follows movie-making Greg Gaines, his only friend Earl, and the life-changing, cancer-battling, unforgettable Rachel. This book has received its share of comparisons to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars – the friendships are just as true, but the tone is much lighter.
For more information on how you can help raise awareness or funds, visit the American Childhood Cancer Organization.