“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”  – Desmond Tutu

The Children’s Treehouse Foundation is an organization that is based on empathy, listening and understanding.  As an organization we want to add our voice to those who decry the systemic racism spotlighted, again, by the tragic and inexcusable killing of George Floyd at the hands of white Minneapolis police officers. As we see the outcry of grief and justifiable anger in our community and countless others, we stand in solidarity with those who seek equality and basic human rights for all. Many of our families are black, indigenous, and people of color and we want you to know we stand with you.

But we want to add more than our voice. We ask our community and our supporters to think about what you can do personally to effect change and to make our country a safer place for everyone.

Our program is based on the foundational belief that all feelings are okay and that feelings need to be expressed.  We provide tools to help people listen and we advise that by changing our behavior, others’ behavior will change. 

  • You can proactively engage your children in conversations by asking questions about what they are seeing, and how they are feeling. Have open and honest conversations as much as possible. Growing up in a systemically racist society, implicit biases may be hard to uncover and admit. Try not to shut down the difficult conversations.
  • You can help your children understand and empathize by building an inclusive collection of books, movies, and TV shows. We must acknowledge that our experiences in life are different based on race, and that our differences make us stronger and we can learn from each other’s perspectives.
  • Parents can help older children explore credible information to supplement history classes with lessons from influential women, African Americans, indigenous people, and other people of color.  We can also help our older children, tweens and teens connect with local advocacy organizations and navigate how to be an active supporter rather than a silent ally.

To borrow from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, MI, one of our partner hospitals, “Change cannot happen without action and action cannot happen without dialogue and a coming together.” So, we echo the appeal from Jeffco Action Center here in Colorado: “Please join us in taking action. As individuals, we need to find ways to be vulnerable and open to deeper discovery. We can’t be afraid of difficult and uncomfortable conversations and we must have the cultural humility to really listen.” 

There are many more actions people can take. Please share your suggestions with us and with those who are eager to make their contribution to change.

CLIMB® Study published in the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology

The first formal research into the effectiveness of the CLIMB® Program was published in the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology in July 2016.  The Children’s Treehouse Foundation commissioned the study through the Omni Institute in 2013 and we are very pleased to have the findings published in this prestigious journal.  Special thanks to Pallavi Visvanathan, Ph.D. and her team for their commitment to getting the study published.  Here is the link to the study:

Find the CLIMB® Study in this edition.


The study provides hard data that CLIMB® is doing for families and children what we have been saying it does; improving communication between the parent and the child and reducing children’s acting out behavior resulting from their parent’s cancer diagnosis. Please use the study to help justify the use of the program in your location and to satisfy those administrators looking for “research-based”, data-driven programs.

Hope Cancer Resources in Springdale, Arkansas telling the CLIMB® story

Christy Scarrow, VP of Patient Services and CLIMB® Coordinator at Hope Cancer Resources in Springdale, Arkansas shared a story done by their local TV station, KWNA, on the CLIMB® Program.  This video is an important reminder that Dad’s get cancer, too, and CLIMB® helps the whole family face the new and frightening  realities of a cancer diagnosis.  Check out this video the Snyder family.


Our Executive Director publishes an article in the AOSW Navigator magazine

When Comprehensive Cancer Care Includes the Patient’s Children
By Denis M. Murray
In February 2016, a public health worker in Colorado stood in front of a statewide audience that was reviewing the Colorado Cancer Plan and announced that, in addition to working on the plan, she had also been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. In less than one year she had endured six months of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation, hair loss and the inability to work. Then she said the most powerful thing I heard during the conference: “The hardest part of my cancer journey so far has been telling my 9- and 11-year old daughters that I have cancer.”  Not chemo, not radiation, not exhaustion—telling her children.

Cancer affects the whole family. When doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals establish a treatment plan, the medical side is covered from head to toe, so to speak. But how is it that so few cancer treatment plans consider what cancer patients identify as the most difficult part of their journey—talking with their children and family about their cancer?

The Children’s Treehouse Foundation has created a psychosocial intervention, group-support program for children whose parents have cancer. The support program, for kids ages 6-11, is called CLIMB®—Children’s Lives Include Moments of Bravery. It helps to normalize feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear and anger for the kids and stimulates improved communication between the children and their parents.

The Children’s Treehouse Foundation trains oncology social workers, child life specialists, chaplains and/or nurses at cancer centers around the globe to deliver the program. Yet while The Children’s Treehouse Foundation has spent the last 15 years training oncology professionals in cancer centers worldwide to run the CLIMB® program, to date only 77 of the over 1,400 cancer centers in the U.S. and only 18 cancer centers internationally offer the program. Patient-centered care and comprehensive cancer treatments plans are the ways we talk about cancer treatment. But a comprehensive treatment plan is not truly comprehensive until it includes the children and families of cancer patients.

Lawrence D. Piro, MD, of the Angeles Clinic and Research Institute in Santa Monica, California, stated, “The illness of a parent is among the most threatening events in the universe of a child. Parents are the protectors and source of safety for children. They are the primary source of unconditional love and acceptance, which play a pivotal role in a child’s development of self-esteem and confidence. As a result, when a parent becomes ill, it affects a child at his or her most vulnerable place. The biggest challenge in helping a child through such an experience is getting him or her to talk about it.”

(Photo: Feeling Mask activity in the CLIMB®program)

The CLIMB® program fills this gap exceptionally well. The cancer centers that use the CLIMB® program cannot say enough good things about how it fits into comprehensive treatment. Marisa Nowitz at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, states: “The CLIMB® program has been an invaluable tool for the oncology patients, children, and staff at MD Anderson throughout the past nine years. CLIMB® not only benefits the professionals who receive training by providing practical tools to implement the program, it also provides an immeasurable experience and crucial support to the families who participate.”

Lindsay Rehm, RN, BSN, OCN, at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa, Oklahoma, shares: “…we are completely focused on patient-empowered care, which means that we put the patient at the center of everything we do. I’m a huge supporter of CLIMB®, as it allows me as a nurse to empower not only the patient, but the entire family. Patients frequently ask me, ‘How do I explain my cancer to my kids?’ CLIMB® provides me with an answer to that pivotal question and allows me to offer support to our patients and their families during their journey.”

And leave it to a social worker, Blair Edgar, MSW, LCSW, at Sacred Heart Cancer Center in Pensacola, Florida, to capture it this way: “We absolutely love the CLIMB® program…This is the most rewarding program I have ever done in my career!”

Lindsey Gutierrez, R.T.(R)(CT), is a computed tomography technologist at the June E. Nylen Cancer Center in Sioux City, Iowa, and has been trained to run CLIMB®. Gutierrez writes, “Within the Children’s Treehouse programs, these groups also are used to educate the children about the treatment mom or dad is receiving. Seeing how the treatment machines work, meeting the health care workers who treat their parents, and asking questions help make cancer less scary for children. … Programs such as those created at the Children’s Treehouse can ease the burden of cancer on families and provide them with tools to cope with the emotions their children will experience.”

The Children’s Treehouse Foundation conducts two trainings each year for professionals who want to learn how to conduct the CLIMB® program at their location. You can have a truly comprehensive approach to treatment for your cancer patients by taking the training and starting the CLIMB® program in your cancer center. Information and registration can be found on the Children’s Treehouse Foundation website, or by calling (303) 322-1202.

Denis M. Murray
Executive Director
The Children’s Treehouse Foundation
Lakewood, Colorado
[email protected]

Easing the Burden – Testimony from the Field

This article was written and published by one of our CLIMB® providers in Sioux City, IA.  Hear from Lindsey why the tools from the CLIMB® Program are needed in every cancer center in the U.S.

My Perspective

RADIATION THERAPIST, Fall 2015, Volume 24, Number 2

Lindsey Gutierrez, R.T.(R)(CT)

When Mom or Dad Have Cancer: Helping Kids Cope

Imagine yourself as a 34-year-old woman with 2 young children. Weeks after your daughter’s sixth birthday, you are diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. Your first thoughts are of your children. “How do I tell them? What do I tell them? How is this going to affect their lives?” While a cancer diagnosis can be devastating to an adult, it can be equally or even more so for a child whose parent or family member is newly diagnosed with the disease. Emotional and physical support after a diagnosis is critical for everyone affected. The patient and his or her spouse can access facility-provided counselors and information regarding cancer, treatment, and coping strategies. However, few resources are designed specifically to support the needs of the patient’s children, who during this time, experience intense but normal feelings of fear and stress that can trigger confusion, anxiety, and depression.(1)

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States,(2) and more than 367 000 parents with children younger than 18 are estimated to be diagnosed with invasive cancer each year.(3) Research also shows that nearly 562 000 children live with a parent in the early stages of cancer.(4) Children and parents need resources to enhance their ability to cope with the strong and sometimes overwhelming emotions that accompany the illness. In many ways, it makes sense that health care facilities, specifically medical imaging facilities and cancer centers, be the ones to provide these services to the patients and families in their communities.

The Children’s Treehouse, founded in January 2001 in Denver, Colorado, is the nation’s only organization providing hospital-based, cancer-focused, psychosocial intervention training and programming dedicated to improving the emotional health of children whose parents have cancer.(5) The Children’s Treehouse program, called Children’s Lives Include Moments of Bravery (CLIMB®), teaches children to normalize their feelings and offers them the skills to communicate effectively with their parents.(5) This specialized, continued support helps families better manage the effects of stress on every member of the family.(6) Health care centers around the world can receive this training to develop the skills to start support groups for children in their communities, and any professional who wants to help can receive the training. According to the National Cancer Institute, joining a support group is a great outlet for children going through troubling times.(7) Meeting other children having the same issues and hearing that a peer is experiencing the same fears and feelings can help them recover their feelings of normalcy. Within the Children’s Treehouse programs, these groups also are used to educate the children about the treatment mom or dad is receiving. Seeing how the treatment machines work, meeting the health care workers who treat their parent, and asking questions help make cancer less scary for children. Children also often are interested in seeing the medical images of their parent or riding on the treatment table.

Cancer is widespread around the world and will not go away anytime soon. Programs such as those created at the Children’s Treehouse can ease the burden of cancer on families and provide them with tools to cope with the emotions their children will experience. It is hoped that the groups will enable children to return to a more normal life sooner and avoid anxiety or abnormal emotion toward illness. In addition, successful support groups could help children become motivated citizens who will lead positive and influential lives, no matter the outcome of the present cancer diagnosis which they are facing. They even could later return to the program and start their own support group to help children the way they were helped.

pg 218-219 My Perspective RADIATION THERAPIST, Fall 2015, Volume 24, Number 2 Gutierrez

Lindsey Gutierrez, R.T.(R)(CT), is a computed tomography technologist for the June E Nylen Cancer Center in Sioux City, Iowa.


1. For family and friends. National Cancer Institute Web site. http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/family-friends. Published December 2, 2014. Accessed August 19, 2015.
2. Statistics for different kinds of cancer. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer /dcpc/data/types.htm. Updated June 25, 2015. Accessed August 19, 2015.
3. The need. Children’s Treehouse Foundation Web site. http:// www.childrenstreehousefdn.org/theneed.html. Accessed August 19, 2015.
4. National Health Interview Survey. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis.htm. Updated August 17, 2015. Accessed August 19, 2015.
5. Children’s Treehouse Foundation Web site. http://www.child renstreehousefdn.org/index.html. Accessed August 26, 2014.
6. Our role, and benefits. Children’s Treehouse Foundation Web site. https://www.childrenstreehousefdn.org/ourroll.html. Accessed August 19, 2015.
7. Teens who have a family member with cancer. National Cancer Institute Web site. http://www.cancer.gov/about -cancer/coping/family-friends/teens. Posted December 2, 2014. Accessed August 19, 2015.

©2015, the American Society of Radiologic Technologists. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of the ASRT for educational purposes.

CLIMB Supports Kids

“Health & Healing”
The Saint Alphonsus Cancer Center, http://www.saintalphonsus.org

See Original Article (PDF)

Saint-AlphonsusTHE SAINT ALPHONSUS Cancer Care Center is pleased to announce the launch of CLIMB (Children’s Lives Include Moments of Bravery), a support and education program designed for children who have parents or grandparents with cancer. At Saint Alphonsus, we know that cancer affectsnot only the individual, but the entire family. Children who have a loved one with cancer may experience changes in their daily routines and may feel confused, fearful, sad or angry about the illlness of a parent or grandparent.

The six-session CLIMB program, which is offered free to area children, is based on a nationally recognized model developed by the Children’s Treehouse Foundation, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing emotional support for children of adults with cancer.

If you are interested in supporting our effort to help children and families affected by cancer, or know of a family who would benefit from the program, please contact Lori Watts, Saint Alphonsus oncology social worker, at 367-7785. Volunterrs and donations (cash or in-kind to help with costs of food and activity/art materials)will help us continue to offer the CLIMB program to families in the future.

What Professionals Say About CLIMB and The Children’s Treehouse Foundation

With the CLIMB® program now being provided at 91 cancer centers in 31 states in the USA and seven foreign countries, here’s what professionals say about the program and The Children’s Treehouse Foundation:

“The Children’s Treehouse Foundation’s has been an invaluable tool for the oncology patients, children, and staff at MD Anderson throughout the past eight years.  CLIMB not only benefits the professionals who receive training by providing practical tools to implement the program, it also provides an immeasurable experience and crucial support to the families who participate.  Over the years, we have assisted more than 150 children and their parents, and the coping support they receive through the program is priceless.”

—Marisa B. Nowitz, MSW, LCSW, Social Work Counselor
The University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX.

“At Cancer Treatment Centers of America, we are completely focused on Patient Empowered Care, which means that we put the patient at the center of everything we do. I’m a huge supporter of CLIMB, as it allows me as a nurse to empower not only the patient, but the entire family. Patients frequently ask me, “How do I explain my cancer to my kids?” CLIMB provides me with an answer to that pivotal question and allows me to offer support to our patients and their families, including more than 100 kids, during their journey.”

—Lindsay Rehm, RN, OCN, Education Specialist,
Cancer Treatment Centers of America® ,Tulsa, OK.

“At Marshfield Clinic Cancer Center in Eau Claire, WI, we have offered the CLIMB program to our patients and their families for six years and have graduated more than 125 children! It has been an honor and a joy to facilitate the program. We also provide the program at our Rice  Lake center. Over and over again, the parents have expressed how much it has helped their children cope and have a better understanding of cancer. This, in turn, has provided comfort to the parents and the help that they were looking for.”

—Nan Bethmann, RN/OCN, Survivorship Coordinator, and
Marcy Elwood, MSW, Oncology Social Worker, Marshfield Clinics, Eau Claire, WI

“We absolutely love the CLIMB program and all 10 kids are coming. This is the most rewarding program I have ever done in my career!”

— Blair Edgar, LCSW, Oncology Social Worker,
Sacred Heart Cancer Center, Pensacola, FL

CLIMB Program Helps Kids Express Emotions

By Rachel Brougham, Petoskey News-Review, MI
Friday – December 16, 2011

petoskey121611Martha Johnson, 11, and her brother, Kevin, 9, sit at a table, surrounded by craft supplies. The two make masks, decorate boxes, and create drawings that display a range of their emotions — angry, sad, confused, even happy. The projects help the Harbor Springs siblings deal with a difficult subject — their mother’s battle with cancer.

Lenora Johnston was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 2010. To help her children better understand the disease and the variety of emotions that can come along with it, Lenora and her husband, Kevin, enrolled their children in the CLIMB program.

CLIMB, which stands for Children’s Lives Include Moments of Bravery, is a free six-week program offered by Northern Michigan Regional Health System that provides emotional support to children ages 5 through 12, who have a parent or other loved one touched by cancer. “The goal is to help children identify and express the complex feelings they may experience during this difficult time,” said Amy L. Juneau, an oncology social worker at Northern Michigan Regional Hospital. “The program allows children to participate, and offers them a place that is safe to talk about their feelings and learn they are not alone.”

Each session, children will talk about a different feeling and do a craft project that serves as a vehicle for that emotion. Topics include happiness, confusion, sadness, fear, anger and communication. “I can put this mask over my face when I get sad,” Kevin said. “I roll this box like dice,” Martha added, as she shows off a paper box she made. “I wrote ways to deal with being angry and any time I feel angry I can roll it and read what I wrote and it helps.” Kevin made what he calls a “destruction box.” “See, the scene is kind of destructive,” he explained. “I decorated it that way because I try to explode the cancer out of my mom’s lungs.”

The siblings added they use the decorated boxes when they feel scared or angry — putting those types of thoughts out of their mind until they are ready to address them. “At the beginning the kids weren’t sure about the program, but after the first night they were so excited,” Lenora said. “It really has made it easier.” In addition to learning about their emotions, Martha and Kevin also learned they are not alone. They met other area children their age who are also struggling with a loved one’s battle with cancer.

“You know cancer is a bad thing, but you don’t know how bad until it happens to your family,” Martha said. “But now I feel stronger and less afraid.” “It has helped us as a family and made it easier to talk about and deal with the issues involved,” Lenora added. “We still have bad days, but we have good days, too. There are ups and downs, but we’re able to better communicate now. We learned it is OK to cry and it’s OK to feel happy.”

The CLIMB program will take place from 5:30-7 p.m. on Mondays, Jan. 9, 16, 23, 30, and Feb. 6 and 13, at the Community Health Education Center building located across the parking lot from the main entrance to Northern Michigan Regional Hospital in Petoskey. CLIMB was developed by The Children’s Treehouse Foundation, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to the emotional support of children who have parents or grandparents with cancer. The service is free and is funded by Northern Michigan Regional Health System Foundation. For more information or to enroll a child in the program, contact Amy Juneau at (231) 487-4015.

When Mom Has Cancer

By Interviewed by Midweek Staff
Wednesday – December 31, 2008

Dr. Diane Thompson Queen’s Medical Center Women’s Center medical director and Cancer Center director
Dr. Diane Thompson
Queen’s Medical Center Women’s Center medical director and Cancer Center director



Where did you receive your schooling and training?
I did my medical school training in Ohio at Wright State University and I completed my psychiatry residency at the University of Pittsburgh, where I did special training in women’s health and psychiatric oncology. After my residency, my husband and I moved here to Hawaii.

How long have you been practicing?
10 years.

What exactly is a psychiatric oncologist?
I’m a psychiatrist who specializes in dealing with cancer patients. It’s a unique specialty that is getting more recognition as we begin to focus on the overall quality of life of cancer patients. Psychiatric oncology is very different from general psychiatry. For the most part, these are patients who have never had any kind of psychiatric illness before. These are patients who are specifically dealing with changes in mood associated with their cancer diagnosis and the treatment.

What is a typical work week like for you?
My typical work week is divided between the Women’s Center and the Cancer Center. My job with cancer patients is to make sure that there are programs to support the cancer patients. One closest to my heart is the CLIMB program. This is a program for children whose parents have cancer. We also offer many other support groups and community education programs through the cancer center.

Dr. Thompson talks with a parent
Dr. Thompson talks with a parent

Can you talk in detail about what the CLIMB program offers?
It’s a national program (founded by The Children’s Treehouse Foundation), and CLIMB® stands for Children’s Lives Include Moments of Bravery. It is a four- to six-week support program where children meet for one evening each week. They come in with their parents. The children and their parents have a light dinner together, and after that the children leave the parents and begin the program. We give them a tour of different parts of the hospital so they can see what the chemotherapy and radiation oncology departments look like. It takes a lot of the scariness out of the equation, because their imagination of where Mom and Dad are going is often different from the reality. Then on different nights we do different types of art therapy and discuss emotions that they are experiencing. At the end of the evening, the parent and the child are able to talk about what the child did. Hopefully that will really open up the communication and they’ll just begin talking more – that’s the real goal of the program.

Are the art activities designed for each specific age group, or do all the children do the same activity?
The program is open to children ages 5-18, and the general activities are applicable to the full age range. But certainly the discussion varies. For example, the younger children might draw a Mardi Gras mask with an expression on it, which is the expression or emotion they felt when their parent was first diagnosed. It’s amazing the different emotions that children have. Teenagers might also draw something, but their picture of how they felt may be very different or more abstract. Just seeing that there are others their age going through this can be very therapeutic for them.

What are the biggest differences in working with children versus working with adults?
When we work with children, we really do work with the whole family, because when parents are faced with cancer, children are affected. It’s important that the children and the parents are on the same page, and that’s often not the case. One of the most-common questions I’ve been asked over the years is, ‘How do I talk to my children about my diagnosis?’ Or, ‘Do I tell my child that my husband has stage 4 colon cancer?’People often need help just figuring out how to process the diagnosis themselves. When children are involved, there are additional questions like, ‘How do I put it in words that my child can understand?

Is there ever a clear-cut answer to those questions, or does it vary depending on the case and the age of the child?
Children are perceptive, they know something is wrong, so hiding it can often make things worse because children tend to imagine the worst scenario.Their ideas of what happens when Mom or Dad gets chemotherapy or radiation may be very different from the reality.

What are the most-common questions you are asked by children whose parents have been diagnosed with cancer?
It can be just about any question from, ‘What is going to happen to my mom?’to ‘Is my mom’s hair ever going to grow back?’And you may wonder, why didn’t that child just ask Mom? Again, children are perceptive and they may sense that Mom may get upset or cry, and children try to avoid that. That is why the CLIMB program is so helpful, it promotes communication.

What advice do you give to parents who have infants, where they aren’t able to tell them what’s going on, especially in a terminal cancer case?
Regardless of the child’s age, this is a highly emotional issue. With the support of our multi-disciplinary team, including the social worker and psychiatrist in the cancer center, we can help patients as they face these challenges. We might ask them about information they would like to share with their child in the future, or suggest taking some time to write some stories and things that the child can look at in different times in their lives. One very special patient came to me at a point where his cancer had progressed to an end stage. He had been a really active, responsible man, and he felt awful because all of a sudden everyone had to take care of him. He felt like he was not contributing. He said, ‘I feel totally helpless, all I do is sit all day in this wheelchair.’I asked him if he has breakfast with his girls. And he said yes. Then I asked him, ‘Do you ever tell them they look pretty as they leave for school or tell them you are proud when they show you their schoolwork?’ And again he said yes. Then I told him, ‘That’s what they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives. That self-esteem that you’re giving to them now is an incredible gift, so you really are an important part of the family right now. No matter what age that the kids are, there are things we can do to help the parents and the children.

Is there a particular age that the kids take it the hardest?
It’s hard at all ages. Generally at around age 5 children really start to become aware of their parents and the fact that they can get sick. As children mature, the emotions can become more complex.

Helping Kids CLIMB Through Tough Times


By DAVID SCALES , Middletown Press Correspondent

MarliRobleePhotoDURHAM — Marli Roblee has to wake up a little earlier than most to commute to her job at Aetna. Her first stop is the Middlesex Hospital Cancer Center for radiation treatment to prevent her breast cancer from returning. After her diagnosis in 2003, she was unsure how much to tell her 9-year-old son Jeffrey, but a solution appeared when Roblee hosted a field trip and learned of a new outpatient program, Children’s Lives Include Moments of Bravery, at the Middlesex Hospital Cancer Center, 536 Saybrook Road in Middletown.

The free, six-week program is designed to help children of parents or grandparents with cancer deal with the emotional stress the disease can cause. Parent orientation begins at the first meeting with subsequent meetings targeted toward the children. After dinner, an hour and a half of discussing a feeling they call “the emotion of the week” begins to help them understand their feelings.

“It’s a learning experience for the child,” Roblee said. “It’s learning in the sense that it takes away the fear of the unknown. We can handle anything if we know about it,”

By using arts and crafts, the kids learn how to calm their anxiety about a family member’s illness. One exercise is to make a paper box, which is called a “strongbox.” On the box are pictures of things the children make to help them feel better, such as sports, music, friends, etc. After it’s finished, they put inside that they put little slips of paper inside with their worries written on it. The idea behind the box is the worry slips deposited inside and the positive pictures on the outside help children literally place their fear in a box of their own strength.

“Jeffrey put in a couple of worry slips like ‘I’m afraid my mom and dad are going to die,'” Roblee said. “He had my husband and I fill out worry slips, and once you put the worry slip in the box, they’re not weighing on your mind. They’re not weighing on you.”

Roblee discovered a lump on her breast. Thinking it was a cyst, a biopsy was done. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2003, and it was confirmed as malignant in January 2004.

Roblee had many questions. “How do I tell my son? How can I keep him from being afraid? I don’t want to tell him too much, but how much is enough,” Roblee said. “That’s where CLIMB is fantastic!”

The program doesn’t stop with arts and crafts; kids are also familiarized with the equipment used to treat cancer. Jeffrey was shown the room where his mother undergoes radiation treatments and was encouraged by the new weapons in the anti-cancer arsenal.

“He’s asking me questions when he has concerns and it’s not just this glassy-eyed look,” Roblee said. “Now he understands more and we can talk about it and I’m able to reassure him that everything’s going to be fine.”

When not in class at John Lyman Middle School in Middlefield, exercising his love of math, Jeffrey lends a hand at home.

“I’ve been helping her in the house and I’ve been getting things she shouldn’t be getting up for,” Jeffrey said. “I lift things like laundry baskets. It’s tough to know that my mom had cancer and now we’re getting through it and it’s all better.”

Roblee said because of CLIMB, the lines of communication between her and Jeffrey are open wider than before. Jeffrey has begun to teach his mother how to snowboard. He also said she does pretty well on powdery snow, but tends to wipe out on icy slopes.

Wendy Peterson, is an advanced practice registered nurse, specializing in psychiatry and psycho-oncology, who runs the program. She said the goal is to help children find ways to cope with strong feelings associated with having a sick family member. Parents are also given support to help speak with their children if fears and questions arise.

“When somebody has cancer, people normally get upset,” Peterson said. “It’s normal for a family’s life to be disrupted, it’s normal for children to have feelings, and it’s necessary for children to express how they feel and have age-appropriate information.”

Anne Campbell-Maxwell, administrative director for the cancer center, discovered The Children’s Treehouse Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Denver, Colo. Basing it on their model, CLIMB has gained some national attention. She recently returned from a national psycho-oncology meeting where the CLIMB program was introduced to a national audience with The Children’s Treehouse Foundation founder, Peter van Dernoot.

The six-week pilot program finished in December, and another is beginning, and hopes are high for a continuation. Jeffrey and Marli said they would both love to come back.

Peterson remains hopeful that the program will not only be able to continue, but expand. The group will have a reunion in April.

“We’re really trying to increase awareness so that more children can be referred to the program,” Peterson said.

“Our ultimate goal is to increase the participation of the children and we’re also developing a concurrent parent program.

“The parent program will be focused on giving parents information about what is age-appropriate information to give children because children have different cognitive abilities depending upon their age.”

Roblee hopes to keep hitting the slopes and one day see Jeffery get his license, go to his prom, and one day rock her grandchildren. She is currently undergoing reconstructive surgery.