Until today, I’ve never talked about cancer with my students. Thankfully, I’ve never had any urgent need to do so. Today I had my first non-urgent reason; our school is participating in a program called “Pennies for Patients,” (http://www.schoolandyouth.org/school/Controller?action=loadContent&itemid=91060) in which kids collect coins to donate to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. My understanding is that the school got involved a few years ago when a student was in remission, and has stuck with it as an annual project ever since. I decided that if I was going to send home the coin collection boxes, then my kids needed to have an understanding of what the program was all about.
Someone recommended a video to me called, “Why Charlie Brown, Why?” (you can watch it on youtube) in which Janice, a friend of Charlie Brown’s, is diagnosed with leukemia after consistent bruising and a high fever that sends her to the hospital. During the episode, Charlie Brown and Linus learn a lot. They learn that leukemia is in blood. They learn that leukemia is not contagious. They learn that chemotherapy is something that helps get rid of the leukemia. They learn that when people are undergoing chemotherapy they often lose their hair and get tired. They learn that kids with leukemia have to miss a lot of school. They even learn that sometimes brothers and sisters get a little bit jealous of the attention their sibling with cancer is getting. And then they also learn that doctors and nurses take good care of kids with leukemia, and that many kids get better. They learn that hair eventually grows back and that kids come back to school. They learn that kids with cancer love to be visited when they’re gone, and they’re happy to be back when they’re back. Needless to say, I was impressed.
Afterwards, we talked about the video and how it connects to “Pennies for Patients.” We talked about how our coins can help kids like Janice. I was a bit surprised at how empowered my kids felt by the whole idea. They started chatting away about how many pennies they already have and who they knew who could maybe give them more. Even more interesting were the reflective comments: “Oh I would not like if that happened to me.” “Maybe if I got cancer other kids would save pennies for me.” “I wonder if I know anyone with cancer.” “I’m glad it’s not contagious so it’s not as scary.” “I would visit my friends if they were in the hospital.” “I hope I don’t get cancer.”
I left the conversation with a few take-aways. 1) Talking about cancer with kids was less uncomfortable than I expected. 2) There are resources out there. I need not always reinvent the wheel. Thank you Charlie Brown. 3) Maybe it’s better to have these conversations before there’s any urgent need. I’d like to think that in a small way, my students are armed with some information that if and when cancer somehow does impact them more personally, they’ll be one tiny step ahead of the game in tackling it.