How to help kids cope with cancer in the family

Guest column.

Worrying about how your kids are coping with a family member’s cancer diagnosis and treatment can be overwhelming. Sometimes just talking about it isn’t enough. There are other ways for you and your children to find comfort. Turn to the outdoors, creative classes, meditation, music and reading to bring relief and peace to everyone’s world, if even for a moment.

Kids Camp

In the United States, there are several free camps for kids who have been affected because a family member has cancer. One such camp can be found in the quad cities of Iowa and Illinois where the Genesis Cancer Care Institute offers a week-long camp. This is a time for kids to relate to their peers and camp counselors. They can work through their feelings and emotions in a natural, wooded setting. Camp is an opportunity to escape the pain and hardship associated with cancer diagnosis and treatment and provides a safe, intimate environment for kids to share and relate to one another’s experiences.

In Canada, one such camp can also be found in Alberta. For more information, check out Kids Cancer Care camp and community web page.


Sometimes words alone can’t express children’s emotions and feelings.Taking creative classes and workshops sometimes brings out what’s troubling these kids. Much like Dr. Lynn Eldridge, who found peace in dealing with her cancer through art in a “Watercolor and Cancer Healing” class, adults and kids can often put feelings of confusion and pain into perspective with art, music, photography, pottery or dance. They don’t have to be good at it to reap the benefits—sometimes just engaging in the activities can be cathartic and interacting with others who are going through a similar struggle can help these kids cope.


If yoga and meditation fit your lifestyle, these are positive ways to assist with the healing process for yourself and your children when going through cancer. A similar on-the-go method (recommended by the New York Times, Self Magazine and the Huffington Post) is an app called Simply Being, designed by Meditation Oasis for iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry. The experience offers a voice-guided journey through 5-20 minute meditation sessions complete with optional music and nature sounds.


Swedish Professor Fereshteh Ahmadi conducted interviews with more than 15 cancer patients who had all listened to music as a form of coping with the disease. Ahmadi concluded that different styles of music helped the patients (aged 24-73) in different ways.

  • Cheerful music: Helps cope with psychological effects including depression and creates a happier imaginary world for them to inhabit.
  • Heavy-Metal music: offers an outlet for anger.
  • Religious music: Strengthens faith.
  • Nature sounds: Helps patients feel part of something bigger than themselves as they relate to the world on a more spiritual level.

This information was published in “Arts & Health: An International Journal for Research, Policy and Practice” Volume 5, Issue 2, 2013.


Books are often a great way to get the conversations started. The characters in the books answer the hard questions so that you can springboard into discussions:

  • Punk Wig by Lori Ries
  • Butterfly Kisses and Wishes on Wings: When Someone You Love Has Cancer by Ellen McVicker
  • The Goodbye Cancer Garden by Janna Matthies

Some other great resources include the American Cancer Society’s guide for helping children deal with a family member’s cancer treatment, and BC Cancer Agency’s guide for ideas on how parents can reach out to their children when cancer interrupts their family life.