Helping Families Talk to Kids About Cancer

Evan and Sean Snyder

A program that provides support for families of cancer patients was just what Sean Snyder and his son, Evan, had been looking for since his wife was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer.

The brochure arrived in the mail during the heart of a six-week chemotherapy and radiation treatment regimen. Inside was information about a program at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Florida called Children's Lives Include Moments of Bravery (CLIMB) The program, the Florida Times-Union reports, "provides emotional support for children who have a loved one with cancer through art, discussion and meeting other children with similar experiences." There also was a "companion support group for adults."

As Sean Snyder flipped through the brochure, he realized the program might be what he and his son, Evan, had been looking for since his wife was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer.

The family's cancer journey began in 2018, according to the Times-Union, when Sean's wife — who asked the paper not to include her name — began experiencing symptoms that led to a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. But X-rays later revealed a "cancerous mass" in her chest, which blindsided Sean.

"My initial reaction was of shock and disbelief," he tells the paper. "My wife is 48 years old, healthy, active and did not exhibit signs of later stage lung cancer, or at least what I thought that a person with Stage 3 cancer would."

Sean and his wife didn't tell Evan about the cancer until they had a confirmed diagnosis. "We wanted to have all of the information in order to tell him as much as we could and answer as many questions as he might ask," Sean tells the Times-Union. Sean took Evan on a tour of the building where his wife was receiving radiation treatments so that Evan could see "where Momma and I were spending so much time," Sean tells the paper.

"We tried to take as much of the mystery out of it as possible," he says. So when the CLIMB brochure showed up in their mailbox, Sean hoped it would be another way to help Evan cope.

Chrys Yates, program director of Mayo Clinic's Lyndra P. Daniel Center for Humanities in Medicine, tells the Times-Union that Mayo's CLIMB program — now called Family First — aims to provide a "psychosocial intervention, group-support program" for children whose parents and loved ones have been diagnosed with cancer. "An artist and social worker are paired together to facilitate the adult group and children's group," Yates says. "We've designed art projects that are meaningful and specifically support the topic of the evening ... feelings such as sadness, fear, anxiety, anger."

Sean tells the Times-Union the free program has been invaluable for both him and Evan. "He once told me, 'I wish we could go to Mayo every night, at least on the nights that we don't have baseball,'" Sean says of the program, which is open to anyone regardless of where their loved one is being treated. "The best of CLIMB for me was its ability to be an emotional pressure valve to help relieve the overwhelming stress, grief, etc. that builds up."

Autumn Jones, a Mayo Clinic social worker involved with the program, tells the Times-Union it's designed to be an emotional pressure valve for cancer patients as well. "Patients almost always state that they are mostly concerned about how their diagnosis will impact their children," she says. "It has been amazing to be able to provide a very much needed supportive resource for them."

The program's next session begins July 23 and will run for four weeks. For more information or to register, contact Jones directly.

You can read more about Sean and Evan here.