By Christine Holliday
When her husband was diagnosed with cancer Jean Schoen knew she wanted to protect her three young daughters from the bad news. “I was going to be a good mother and hide all the hurt and pain from them,” she remembered. “I thought I was making the whole thing easier by not talking about it. But I was wrong. They could tell things weren’t right, and they went to their grandparents to ask what was happening.”
Schoen and her husband were also struggling to understand what was happening, what to do next, and where to get help. She knew other cancer families were facing the same challenges so, in 2008, she founded the Cancer Connection of Northwest Ohio, a not-for-profit agency with the purpose of providing the things cancer patients need. Her program is a wholistic one that focuses on support and practical help for those living with cancer and their families. “We help people of all ages live with any and all kinds of cancer. We try to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. It might be something as simple as a massage or a visit. We provide transportation to appointments and never let a cancer patient go to the doctor alone.”
A most important part of the mission of the Cancer Connection is related to helping children of cancer patients deal with their fears.“I learned from my experience and from my daughters’ that ‘the cancer conversation’ is one you have to have. Children have wild imaginations about things they don’t understand, which can drive up their fear and anxiety.I was determined to help other children.”
She reformatted a PowerPoint ® presentation she had used with children at the Cancer Connection, and decided to make it into a book. She worked through CreateSpace, an Amazon company that provides writers with tools and services to help finish their books and make them available to millions of potential readers. Schoen was pleased she could set up her book exactly as she envisioned it, and the end result was three books, one for the youngest children (Someone I Know Has Cancer), one for middle school children (Do You Know Someone Who Has Cancer?), and one for high school young adults (When Someone You Know Has Cancer).
Local artist Greg Justus did the illustrations, and says he kept in mind that “there is nothing whimsical about cancer. I wanted to make the illustrations helpful but not scary.” He explained,“I did the healthy cells in bright colors and used unfriendly facial expressions for the cancer cells. I used a lot of purple— the color for all cancers—because the Cancer Connection treats people with all kinds of cancer.”
Schoen encourages parents or grandparents to read the book with their children or grandchildren because it gives the children a chance to ask questions in a safe environment, which sets the stage for more open communication as the cancer patient is treated.
A grant from the Sylvania Rotary has allowed Cancer Connection to provide copies of the books to local schools, including Sylvania’s McCord Junior High School, and Schoen has already heard from families that have found the books helpful. “One patient told us that the books turned on a light for her, and she knew how to have the conversation with her child after reading them. That’s exactly what we hoped for in preparing them!”