OSU Video Project Helps Children Cope With Parent’s Cancer

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When cancer strikes a father or mother, a child might become frightened and confused. If the parent dies, it might take years for a child to recover from the loss. A program at Ohio State University’s James Cancer Hospital has been helping children work through the process of understanding cancer, death and grief.

In a makeshift studio at Ohio State’s childcare center a young girl and her aunt sit side by side. As a video camera rolls, the girl begins to interact with the woman beside her. “My name is Sidney and I am nine years old and she’s my Auntie Gail.”

For the next 30 minutes under the gentle questioning of interviewer Chris Lang, Sydney Russell begins to open up about the toll cancer has taken on her family. “Now Sidney, who in your family has been battling cancer or is battling cancer?”

‘My grandpa and my Auntie Gail and my mom. Grandpa died in 2002 when I was two years old,” Sidney says. Her Aunt Gail Carter who was stricken with cancer in 2001, then recovered, is fighting the deadly illness once again. “I just want her to be able to process this thing and know that everything’s going to be all right,” Carter says. “And even if the ultimate thing would happen and I should leave, that’s God’s will.” “I don’t want you to leave.”

“Yeah but it isn’t always what we want because I didn’t want my father to leave either but I miss him every day. But we’re not going to worry about that now.”

Healing Journey for Children is a six-week program that uses art and play therapy. It helps about 300 families a year, though no child is tuned away. Director Pauline King.

“We’re in the business of making memories, written or otherwise,” King says. “We make remembrance quilts when the kids lose their parent or sibling. I just thought this would be a great project for the child and the parent to have a vital conversation about loving each other. About their memories and they would have it forever.”

“These people are all in transition,” Lang says. “They are transitioning from health to sickness. Some are transitioning from life to death. And so that’s a pretty critical point in their lives.” “Part of what we’re doing is helping them to go into a new place in their experience; go into a new place in conversation with their parent or with their child that they may not feel comfortable going there.” Lang says. “And we’re trying to help them get there and I think that helps them gain closure in their lives.” The video project only started six months ago but Healing Journey for Children has been in operation for 17 years. Director Pauline King says a child can enroll at the point their parent is diagnosed and some children return three or four years after a loved one’s death.

“Our services are for any child in the community regardless of where their parent is being treated,” King says. “If they have any other kind of serious illness in the family they also can come. And death due to any reason – murder, suicide because really it’s all the same issue for the child.”

“Part of my goal is for the parent to be able to, for the lack of a better word, bless their children, and give them a vision for their future,” Lang says. “And give them a hope for their future because they may not be there for it.”