The Charlie Brown story that helped me explain CANCER to our kids.

I write to you today from my treadmill where I am attempting to walk off some anxiety and to make sense of why cancer exists. Once again our family has come face to face with it and I know that it has impacted your lives too.

Cancer really paralyzed us as a family when my father-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer six years ago. Nonno was already in the grips of Multiple Sclerosis and had spent many years confined to a wheelchair with only the use of one arm. The oncologist had given him six months. He was sixty-three years old. Our kids were five and eight and had grown up under his watchful eye. The thought of explaining all that was going on with him was daunting. And then I remembered a book I had found for a student whose father had cancer when I first started teaching.

Why, Charlie. Brown, Why? had been shelved in my home office. I don’t know if I ever did read it or lend it to that special little girl all those years ago, but I read to our kids. In the story, Linus takes a special shine to a little girl at school who has cancer, and the story is told through his point of view. The other characters’ feelings are expressed through dialogue to present how cancer has impacted their lives, and I was particularly impressed with the honesty of this little girl’s siblings. Their very real feelings about all of the attention and gifts going toward only one of the three of them serve as a gentle reminder that those around the cancer patient need care too.

I love how stories have such a delicate way of teaching life’s lessons. Stories feel safe and are far enough removed that they don’t invade personal boundaries, yet provide answers to so many questions. This one helped our kids understand what cancer is, the words the grownups were using, the emotions they were seeing in all of us and feeling themselves. It helped them know the ‘normal’ of the cancer experience, which sadly, there is these days. What I really appreciated, too, was that it is a story of hope and friendship.

Friends and family helped our kids through that very difficult time in their lives. Nicholas had two close buddies, and Larissa a best friend who lost their grandfathers right around the same time they did. They made little cards for each other and they read the book in the months of their grandfathers’ illnesses too. I’ve since lent it out many times and now given it away.

And now, my friends, I need your help. Does anyone know of a book, blog post, article or movie like this for teens or young adults (preferably hope-filled, empowering, informational fiction)? Please leave me a comment here or on Facebook or twitter. My 59 year old aunt (wife, mother, sister, aunt, teacher,mentor, musician, participant of hip-hop classes, optimist, and the sunshine in the lives of all who know her!) is scheduled to have a brain tumour removed on Monday morning which will likely be followed by chemo or radiation. My uncle (her awesome husband) just went through a summer fighting prostate cancer and is still recovering. Your positive thoughts, energy, prayers and personal stories of hope would mean the world to me and our family.

“Stories are medicine. They have such power; they do not require that we do, be, act anything —we need only listen.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

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Comment by Ida Mae West-Simone on November 9, 2012 at 4:14pm

Thank you so much Kristin, I will check it out! 

Comment by Kirstin Rowe on October 29, 2012 at 4:00am
There is a young adult series called One Last Wish by Lurlene McDaniels. I don't know if it exactly will work for you since they are written about kids with cancer and terminal diseases but check them out. Maybe the author has sugestions. Good luck!

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