As a volunteer at Mott Children’s Hospital, I have observed cancer’s disruptive nature: the imprisonment of IV poles, the pains of pokes, the side effects of chemotherapy. My interactions with the incredible children and families I met over the years made me increasingly curious about how cancer affects a child. I wondered how children come to understand and cope with this mysterious, complex illness.
We hear stories about kids with cancer all the time. But these stories are rarely ever told by the children themselves. And as someone interested in understanding how these children cope with cancer, I became determined to fill this void: to let them tell their own stories.
Nine months later, my idea has become a reality. Pediatric cancer patients at Mott are talking, writing, drawing, even just thinking about their experiences with cancer in ways that many never have. These children are confronting their cancer with words, colored markers, and blank storybooks. They are choosing to express themselves in the ways they are most comfortable. They even get to keep the stories that they create.
Perhaps what has been the greatest motivation for most of these children is the opportunity to help other kids with cancer: to contribute to a book publication of stories about the childhood cancer experience. I am excited to give these children the chance to share their story with health professionals, loved ones, and other kids with cancer. Children have expressed an overwhelming desire to support other kids through the cancer experience, to provide the insight only they can.
With the support of Dr. Rajen Mody, a Mott pediatric oncologist and the Principal Investigator of this study, and Professor Melanie Yergeau, my English Department advisor, this project has grown into so much more than I could ever have hoped.
It has been an honor to listen to these children as they speak through different mediums, to give them the chance to have their voice be heard. These narratives will illuminate the intricacies of childhood cancer, the invisible symptoms that may remain hidden beneath the surface, and I hope that they will be a resource for all those involved with childhood cancer.
The people at Mott Children’s Hospital— from the physicians, nurses, and child life specialists to the parents, siblings, and patients—have all inspired me to cherish these children and to devote myself to their cause. By giving these children the chance to tell their stories, we can listen and learn. And someday, I hope that these stories will help us to better confront childhood cancer with compassion. Only in appreciating these unique experiences, I believe, can we work together to treat the many facets of cancer.
Take the next step:
- Learn more about Trisha’s narrative project on her blog.
- Learn more about art therapy at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
- Discover how you can be a part of the fight to Block Out Cancer.
- Learn more about pediatric cancer research at University of Michigan.
- Learn about cancer services at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
Trisha Paul is a senior at the University of Michigan majoring in English with minors in Biochemistry and Medical Anthropology. Trisha plans to attend medical school and, largely because of her experiences at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, she hopes to become a pediatric oncologist.
Block Out Cancer is a rallying cry for people from all walks of life to come together to support the fight against children’s cancers. Everyone has a role to play. Learn more about how you can help Block Out Cancer.
University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.