Cancer can be scary, confusing and daunting. Just talking about it can be awkward, uncomfortable, even intimidating. Cancer comes with lots of questions for anyone with family or friends battling the disease.
Last Friday the Children’s Cancer Network visited Desert View Intermediate School and Lakeview Elementary with the aim of answering those questions and debunking the fears and misinformation that are often associated with cancer.
The program is called H.O.P.E., which stands for Honoring Our Peers Everyday. The H.O.P.E. team gave assemblies to the students at Desert View and Lakeview Elementary at the invitation of CJ and Brittany Hansen, whose 10-year-old daughter, Allie has been battling cancer since she was eight. Allie is a fifth-grader at Desert View.
“If kids know someone with cancer they usually have a lot of questions about it,” said Sharon Wozny, program coordinator for Children’s Cancer Network. “They want to know how you get it? Is it contagious? How is it treated?”
When children are diagnosed with cancer they often spend a lot of time out of the classroom, and when they return to the classroom they’ve usually undergone some noticeable physical changes, said Wozny.
They may have lost their hair, lost or gained weight. The medicine may have given them puffy cheeks or black rings under their eyes. Some of them wear masks to help keep out the germs. For kids returning to the classroom under such conditions can often lead to teasing and bullying, said Wozny.
“Allie has been pretty fortunate that way,” said her mother Brittany. “She hasn’t been teased or bullied very much. And her teacher and principal have been very supportive. They’ve done a lot to help educate the kids so they have a better understanding of what Allie’s going through.”
The H.O.P.E. program teaches students its three components: Education, compassion and action. The education part of the program answers questions about what cancer is and how its treated.
“If students understand what cancer is and what their friends and classmates are going through while they’re battling it, that understanding leads to fuller compassion, and action,” said Wozny.
The compassion part of the program focuses on ways kids can treat and interact with their friends and classmates who have cancer.
“Some of them are obvious,” said Wozny. “Don’t tease or bully them. Still send them text messages. Still call them. Still include them. Treat them normal, the way you did before they had cancer.”
The third step of the program is action. “At the end of the H.O.P.E. program we want the kids to be H.O.P.E. Ambassadors,” said Wozny. “They can get involved with donation drives and fundraising events. They can be supportive and encouraging to their friend and what they’re going through.”