Supporting Children Through a Loved One's Cancer Diagnosis

By Mary Kate Llamas
September 09, 2021
​​A boy works through feelings about his mother's cancer during a virtual KidsCan! session. ​​​

​​A boy works through feelings about his mother's cancer during a virtual KidsCan! session. ​​​

When an adult is facing a cancer diagnosis there are specialists to help them deal with what they are going through. But what about their children? Duke Cancer Institute's KidsCan! program is ready to help kids 4 to 18 process their feelings and fears surrounding a loved one’s diagnosis and treatment.

KidsCan! is currently enrolling kids and their families for their 2021-2022 program. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, participants will meet virtually the second Monday of each month to work on activities and discuss a related theme. Activity packets are available for pick up or will be mailed directly to participants' homes before the meeting.

Creating Connections 

Children and teens are grouped by age with activities and topics that are developmentally appropriate for each age group. Parents also have their own virtual meeting the first Monday of each month to connect with others who are battling cancer while navigating their children's feelings about their disease. All sessions are led by trained facilitators with the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program.

“Sending materials with a guided focus serve an important role in establishing conversations and quality engagement for families," said Hannah Sasser, MEd, certified child life specialist and KidsCan! Raleigh lead. “The themes of coping, problem solving, mindfulness, bravery and love are evident in each of the packages. These themes encourage connectedness, resiliency and care among families, which are helpful tools in coping with the daily changes a family faces when there is a cancer diagnosis."

A Deeper Understanding of Emotions

Cancer patient and mom Stacey Phipps was happy to have found KidsCan! to help her daughter and their family.

“I was relieved that Kerry had a place where she could both hear and normalize her thoughts and express them if she chose to," said Phipps. “My daughter had a place where she could learn that all her feelings about my cancer were ok." 

To Jean Hartford-Todd, child life specialist and Durham KidsCan! lead, continuing to offer KidsCan! during COVID is crucial.

“Patients have shared that their children have been forced to have a constant front row seat to their parents' cancer illness without the support and distraction of school, playdates and extra-curricular activities. KidsCan! allows them to talk about cancer in fun and non-threatening ways while also interacting with other children and teens who understand what it is like to have a parent with cancer."

Register Your Child

To register for the 2021-2022 session, call 919-684-4497 or email

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