World Cancer Day

According to the “Purple Your Profile” campaign on Facebook, today, February 4, is World Cancer Day. The “purple” thing is a campaign by Chevrolet to support the American Cancer Society:, but it got me thinking about what we at Tracy’s Kids can add to the conversation.

We work with pediatric cancer patients and their families–but until I began working at Lombardi over twenty years ago I, like most people, really didn’t understand that kids could get cancer. Yet it is estimated that in 2007 one in every 1,000 young adults in the US was a childhood cancer survivor (Shrag, N. M., McKeown, R. E., Jackson, K. L.,  Cuffe, S. P.,  Neuberg, R. W. (2008).Stress-related mental disorders in childhood cancer survivors. Pediatric Blood Cancer,50, 98-103.)  Advances in medicine have made many childhood cancers treatable chronic illnesses, and research is making these treatments better all the time.

What we do at Tracy’s Kids isn’t cancer treatment, but it helps kids and families manage the treatment better. Despite advances, cancer treatment, especially for children, is long and intense–requiring many hours in the clinic or hospital–and time away from school and friends. Through art and play we help kids and families process all the new information and changes in their routine that a cancer diagnosis brings. And we also help them rebuild their sense of who they are. A serious medical condition has a way of taking over a person’s identity–you go from “I’m a fourth-grader who likes to play Angry Birds” to “I’m a Cancer Patient–and my parents are really worried.” But working creatively in the treatment center changes how kids experience themselves–with our support they can relax, feel more normal, forget about the treatment and focus on what makes them unique. We’ve had kids who never really cared for art find gifts they never knew they had and continue to express themselves through art long after their cancer treatment is over.

Visual language is a powerful tool for expression and connection–a bridge from one person to another–and a bridge that you can walk over time and again, even from a distance, by understanding and appreciating the images that people create. So, from the kids in the hospitals we work with, here are some visual messages on World Cancer Day.