My Life Has Changed Since You Were Diagnosed with Cancer.

Working with children and teens who have a family member with cancer is an important aspect of my work at Inova Life with Cancer. Through individual work and support groups, children in particular have an opportunity to address and better understand the changes they experience as their family member; (often a parent) undergoes a variety of treatments for cancer including chemotherapy, radiation and /or surgery. This can be a confusing, scary, isolating and maddening time. Through the support group children learn about the various treatments for cancer, the equipment used and the subsequent common side effects. They also learn about and explore the feelings they are having. Through creating art and discussion children share what they have experienced and also prepare for what may be coming as their family member’s treatment progresses. They often discuss the many ways life has changed and continues to change during this time frame.

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Children generally become more open as the group sessions progress often because they are meeting other children who have similar experiences and feelings. There tends to be some relief in learning that theirs is not the only family going through this. One exercise often incorporated into the group is a list of how their lives have changed since their family member’s diagnosis and treatment. The list incorporates home and family, school, friends and neighbors. The children may add to this list throughout the 6 weeks of group or complete it in 1 session. Either way, it reveals a great deal about their experience and provides a very rich opportunity for sharing, expressing and validation. Children see in a very concrete way how many of these experiences are shared by the other kids. It doesn’t change what is happening but hopefully they come away with a deeper understanding of what they are going through and their feelings and reactions. As they become more attuned to how they are feeling they also learn productive ways to cope. Ultimately they have an opportunity to see that they are not alone and support is there when they want it.

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