‘My Mom Has Cancer’
Karmanos art program helps the young children of cancer patients.
Knowing that a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer can be an emotional roller coaster for family members.
But when it’s a child who must cope with the uncertainty of a parent’s diagnosis, they often need a creative outlet and a health care professional who can help them channel their emotions.
Benjamin Harvey, 10, of West Bloomfield, knows about growing up with a mother who lives with cancer. Mom Amy Harvey, 42, was diagnosed with stage IIIc ovarian cancer when she was 36.
Benjamin comes to see Wendy Levine, art therapist and counselor with the Friends Like Me program at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center’s Weisberg Cancer Treatment Center in Farmington Hills. He does activities like drawing, jewelry making for his mom and coloring with pencils.
“Sometimes I talk about my mom,” he said. “It’s very scary because she’s had cancer since I was 4.
“With Wendy, I can express all my feelings to someone who knows what I’m going through.”
Friends Like Me combines art therapy and counseling for children ages 5-18 who have a family member with cancer. The program is free thanks to support from the Shelley Littman Endowment Fund for Children and is open to all children, not just those with loved ones being treated at Karmanos.
Levine, who recently graduated from Wayne State University with a master’s degree in counseling and art therapy, says art is a way for children to work through the myriad emotions that come with having a loved one with cancer.
“There’s so much chaos and stress when your parent is diagnosed with cancer,” said Levine. “The children I work with are so smart and so creative, they don’t need much direction.
“I’ve always thought there’s a lovely marriage between art and science and using creativity to understand what’s going on inside a person. I’m blown away with how people are able to share things about their lives when they’re doing art.”
Levine said she’s found it especially gratifying working with Benjamin, who enjoys collaborating with her on various art projects.
“I love working with Benjamin,” she said. “He’s always thinking of other people and he’s always trying to do right by his mom.”
Mom Amy Harvey says Benjamin benefits from the art therapy classes and has become more accustomed to her diagnosis and treatment regimen, considering that she has had a chronic cancer for six years and is currently in treatment.
“My husband, Peter, and I are always upfront with him about my cancer,” Amy said. “He’s done better with it than the last time. He comes in every other week to see Wendy. I think the art therapy helps him.”
Amy, who is being treated by Robert Morris, M.D., Gynecologic Oncology Multidisciplinary Team leader at Karmanos, said that for now, there are no new cancer tumors. She tries not to look at survival statistics and says that her family and maintaining a good sense of humor help her to live with a chronic disease. She also finds help at Karmanos’ monthly support group for young women with cancer or a history of cancer.
“My mom, who has beat breast cancer three times, told me you have five minutes a day to feel sorry for yourself and then you move on,” she said. “Humor really helps me put things in perspective. I’ve been dealt a tough hand, but I’ve survived for six years. It is what it is. I’m here to talk about it.
“Peter is my rock, and Benjamin is my pebble. He always asks, ‘Can I help?’”
Said Benjamin, “Though Mom has chemotherapy, she can do a lot of great stuff, like playing outside, playing board games and throwing around a ball.”
Amy also mentioned that those who work at the Weisberg Cancer Treatment Center help her as well.
“When you’re dealing with cancer, it’s scary walking in here,” she said. “Everybody is so nice and so friendly.”
For more information about the Friends Like Me program or to make a donation to the Shelley Littman Endowment Fund for Children, which supports Friends Like Me, contact Kathleen Hardy, LMSW, at (248) 538-4712 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donations also are accepted at www.karmanos.org/ShelleyLittman.
For more information about Karmanos Cancer Institute, contact 1-800-KARMANOS (1-800-527-6266) or visit karmanos.org.
By: Elizabeth A. Katz, Special to the Jewish News
Elizabeth A. Katz is the external marketing and communications manager at the Detroit-based Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute.