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.