Helping children cope when a parent has cancer

Jan 18,2013

When a parent, grandparent or primary caregiver goes through cancer treatment, a child who loves them experiences a range of emotions, from self-blame and anger to fear and sadness. For the first time, the Samaritan Cancer Program is offering a unique support group for children ages 5 through 12 who have a parent, grandparent or primary caregiver with cancer.

Children’s Lives Include Moments of Bravery — or CLIMB — is an internationally acclaimed program created by The Children’s Treehouse Foundation. The CLIMB program has been established in cancer treatment centers around the globe and throughout much of the United States; Samaritan’s is the second chapter of the CLIMB program in Oregon.

“The stress of cancer on the family can be overwhelming,” said Jan Spencer, who is the director of the Samaritan Cancer Resource Center and a social worker who specializes in working with cancer patients. Spencer attended a training held by the Children’s Treehouse Foundation in Denver.

“What we often see happen is that when a child’s primary care giver is diagnosed with cancer, the child experiences intense feelings. They tend to think of the worst case scenario,” she said.

Spencer noted that a child doesn’t have the coping skills and life experience of an adult, and thus their emotional needs must be addressed differently. “Children tend to act out feelings, sometimes even in displaying behavioral problems,” said Spencer.

The CLIMB program is also for the parents and grandparents who upon diagnosis with cancer may be overwhelmed by their own emotions, appointments and information — all while trying to manage and maintain a degree of normalcy at their home, job and with their families. “We offer skills and support for parents whose children ask them, ‘Are you going to die?’ or, ‘Who will take care of me?’” said Spencer.

The group will meet Mondays, Feb. 4 to March 11, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Samaritan Cancer Resource Center in North Albany. Dinner will be provided. “Families are busy — we provide dinner for them, so that attending CLIMB doesn’t add more strain to their lives.”

Children will spend the session mostly in art therapy. Their parents and grandparents can attend a group book study in the room next door, or they may leave and pick up their child or children at the end of each session. There is no cost for the program, but parents do need to arrange pre-registration. Call (541) 812-5888 to register.