Climb project

Help­ing with a di­ag­no­sis in the fam­ily

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Parenting Managing Illness - For more in­for­ma­tion on Climb, email lyn.sav­ or call 087-131 6944.

What and when to tell the chil­dren is a huge dilemma faced by par­ents who have been di­ag­nosed with cancer. An es­ti­mated 15 per cent of peo­ple with cancer in Ire­land are aged be­tween 20 and 50 years old and many of them would have at least one child aged un­der 18.

A six-week pro­gramme called CLIMB - Chil­dren’s Lives In­clude Mo­ments of Brav­ery – is de­signed to help those aged five to 12 to deal with a cancer di­ag­no­sis in the fam­ily. De­vel­oped in the US, it is now run in 35 cancer cen­tres and hos­pi­tals around Ire­land.

The al­most na­tion­wide avail­abil­ity of Climb is the legacy of Dublin mother Clare Clarke, who died of cancer at the age of 35 in 2015. When sh­elooked­for ad­vice on how to tell her two daugh­ters about her ill­ness, she found that while Cancer Fo­cus North­ern had a well-es­tab­lished Climb pro­gramme, a cancer cen­tre in Tuam, Co Gal­way was the only place in the Repub­lic that had some­body trained to of­fer it.

De­ter­mined to make Climb much more ac­ces­si­ble in the South, she and her col­leagues at the Ladies Gaelic Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion (LGFA) em­barked on the Clim­b4Clare fund-rais­ing cam­paign. Clare died on Jan­uary 30th, 2015 – the day the first train­ing course in the Repub­lic for Climb fa­cil­i­ta­tors started.

“We promised Clare we would drive be­hind it and, if we are be­ing per­fectly hon­est, we never ex­pected it to get so big,” says Lyn Sav­age, de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer with the LGFA and a close friend of Clare.

They have been phe­nom­e­nally suc­cess­ful in fund­ing and or­gan­is­ing the train­ing but they are also keen to raise aware­ness among fam­i­lies af­fected by cancer, so they might look for a pro­gramme near them.

It has also started “Writ­ing for the Fu­ture” train­ing – a scheme where vol­un­teers sit with peo­ple close to death to com­pile a book with them of their thoughts and feel­ings for their chil­dren.

“They pick their favourite pho­tos – then it is printed in a hard­back book and given to the fam­ily. Some will give it to their fam­i­lies be­fore they pass away but most will ask to hold it un­til post-be­reave­ment and give it to the kids,” says Lyn who did this with Clare for her two daugh­ters, who were 13 and six when their mother died.

Clim­b4Clare has got to the stage where the LGFA now wants to it to be adopted as part of the na­tional cancer strat­egy, to en­sure it is sus­tain­able.

“As a sport­ing body, we have the pas­sion but not the ex­per­tise to keep it go­ing,” says Lyn, who does all her Clim­b4Clare work in her spare time, in a vol­un­tary ca­pac­ity. Very con­scious that it could be asked “who the hell are ladies foot­ball to say there is this gap in cancer ser­vices?”, the LGFA com­mis­sioned the first eval­u­a­tion study of Climb in the Repub­lic.

“Chil­dren of Par­ents with Cancer: An eval­u­a­tion of a psy­choso­cial in­ter­ven­tion”, led by Dr Carla O’Neill of DCU’s School of Nurs­ing and Hu­man Sciences, found that par­tic­i­pa­tion in Climb seemed to be a pos­i­tive step for all of the chil­dren sur­veyed in what was a small, pi­lot study.

“It gave them a chance to ex­press their wor­ries and meet­ing other chil­dren in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion ap­peared to have a some­what calm­ing ef­fect as they bonded as a com­mu­nity,” the study notes. It was also a psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port for par­ents, as they felt that the pro­gramme re­moved some of the bur­den of re­spon­si­bil­ity of talk­ing about the di­ag­no­sis to the chil­dren.

Through the use of arts and crafts to fa­cil­i­tate dis­cus­sions, chil­dren were bet­ter able to ex­press their emo­tions and com­mu­ni­cate more openly with their par­ents af­ter­wards.

“The im­por­tant change,” adds the study, “was that the chil­dren now had words to ar­tic­u­late what was hap­pen­ing at home and they were now part of the ill­ness con­ver­sa­tion.”

We promised Clare we would drive be­hind it and, if we are be­ing per­fectly hon­est, we never ex­pected it to get so big

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