Innovative six-week program helps youngsters deal with a parent’s cancer diagnosis
“What am I going to tell my kids?” Of all the hard questions that come up after a cancer diagnosis, Oncology Program Coordinator Carla Stevens, BSN, RN, OCN, says that is one of the hardest.
“I’ve been an oncology nurse for 20 years,” Stevens says. “I’ve seen many parents struggle with how they’re going to explain their cancer diagnosis—and all of the feelings that go with it—to their children.” That’s why this experienced oncology professional is so excited about the CLIMB program.
CLIMB is a free, six-week program of The Children’s Treehouse Foundation®, developed to help support children ages 6 through 11 with a parent’s cancer diagnosis. Both Stevens and Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant Chris Hatter attended specialized training in order to lead this initiative at Summerlin Hospital.
“We’re looking at the psychosocial behaviors of the children,” Stevens says. “In each of the weekly sessions we explore different emotions in an effort to help the kids deal with feelings like fear and anger.”
Stevens is especially enthusiastic about the session addressing confusion. “We take the kids on a tour of the hospital and give them the opportunity to look at cancer cells underneath a microscope with our pathologist. We even take them to our radiation area (when no patients are there, of course). It helps eliminate the confusion that comes with these big medical words that they’ve never heard before.”
Along with demystifying cancer, CLIMB is also designed to help kids feel less isolated, learn coping skills, and have a safe place to share difficult feelings. Parent participation is an integral part of CLIMB.
Each weekly session begins with a light dinner for the parents and children to enjoy together, then they break into separate groups, with Stevens working with the children and Hatter leading the companion parent program.
Retired Athlete Steps Up to the Plate
The CLIMB initiative at Summerlin Hospital got off the ground thanks, in part, to former professional baseball player Mike Dunn.
During his more than decade-long career in the Major Leagues, Dunn played for the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies. Here at Summerlin Hospital, the now-retired pitcher’s generous contribution to the CLIMB program makes him a different kind of MVP.
“This was really a beautiful situation,” Oncology Program Coordinator Carla Stevens says about Dunn’s involvement. “He actually donated the money for Chris Hatter and me to attend training for the CLIMB program in Denver, Colorado, with The Children’s Treehouse Foundation.” Dunn’s gift also covers all arts-and-crafts supplies for the first year.“
“We are so appreciative of all he has done to help us help these kids.”