August 27, 2014

Kids Circle Supports Families When Cancer Strikes

 

PHOTO COURTESY CANCER SUPPORT COMMUNITY

Kids Circle Supports Families When Cancer Strikes

Bob Ferber, (left) animal rights attorney and dog rescuer, visits Kids and Teen Circle with his special needs dogs.

Cancer.

It’s a little word that can turn a life upside down because its diagnosis doesn’t just affect the patient—it affects the entire family.

Thanks to Kids Circle, children and teens who have a family member with cancer can find support and friendship at no cost through the Cancer Support Community (CSC), a nonprofit support group that serves cancer patients and their families under the guidance of professional therapists.

Children and teens learn how to deal with fear and uncertainty caused by a cancer diagnosis.

They also make friends, play games and create art with kids who can relate to their experiences.

Topanga resident Joyce Boucher, LCSW, MFT, is a licensed therapist who started Kids Circle after her husband was diagnosed with cancer.

She thought her own children, then ages seven and thirteen, could benefit from such a group.

Thirteen years later, Boucher continues to run the Westlake Village group every week, and is happy to report that her husband is fine.

She points to camaraderie as one of the many benefits of coming to Kids Circle.

“The kids get to be with a group of peers who understand the experience of dealing with cancer in the family,” Boucher said. “They can relate to each other and often have useful advice.”

For instance, when Hank* shared that his father had to stay in the hospital for several months, Joyce told him that when she missed her own father during his hospital stay, she put a picture of him by her bed and it made her feel closer to him.

Kids Circle participants frequently use art projects to express their feelings. Making a “Talking Stick” encourages group discussion; creating a mask gets kids talking about their feelings on the inside and the outside; and handmade memory boxes are a special place to keep objects that remind children of loved ones.

Special guests visit the group to provide helpful information and coping skills. Cancer nutritionist Susan Speer made smoothies and explained the benefits of healthy snacks that the children could make at home.

Animal Rights Prosecutor Bob Ferber brings his rescued pets to play with the kids and show the importance of compassion.

But Kids Circle doesn’t just help kids—it’s a source of hope for moms and dads, too.

“Parents benefit from knowing that their kids are getting a chance to deal with their concerns, feelings, and fears,” says Boucher. “They often stay around while their kids are in the program, which gives them a chance to support one another.”

Diane Martell, MFT leads a Spanish/English bilingual Kids Circle group at St. John’s Cancer Center in Oxnard. She has seen academic improvement as another potential benefit of joining Kids Circle.

“When ten-year-old Miguel’s* sister was diagnosed with leukemia, he began acting out and his grades were slipping,” recalls Martell, who has 25 years of experience counseling children.

“When he started coming to Kids Circle, he was able to open up about his fear of his sister dying when her hair began to fall out, and the jealousy he sometimes felt when she got so much attention.”

Since joining Kids Circle, Miguel has been accepted into his school’s gifted program, and he is a star football player.

The Kids and Teen Circle group that meets in Winnetka includes several teens who help each other navigate adolescence. Jaqueline Nederlk, MSW, leads the Spanish/English bilingual group and recalls a young man who, in addition to dealing with a parent’s cancer, was being threatened by gangs in his neighborhood.

“At age fourteen he was having to decide whether to join a gang, or stay out and get beaten up by gang members,” says Nederlk.

With the help of his Kids Circle friends, he was able to get input and options that helped him stay away from gangs.

When cancer strikes a family, the Cancer Support Community is there to provide hope—because no one is alone in their fight. The center also provides free support groups, yoga, art classes and more to adult cancer patients, family and caregivers.

To learn more, call the Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara at (805) 379-4777 or visit www.cancersupportvvsb.org.

*Names of Kids Circle participants have ­­­been changed.