The Children’s Treehouse Foundation
Gregor DeBruhl, Executive Director of The Children’s Treehouse Foundation, joined Arizona Horizon to discuss the group’s efforts to ensure that every child whose parent is diagnosed with cancer is provided with early tools and emotional support to develop positive coping strategies.
“The important thing to remember is cancer affects the entire family, so the adult’s cancer diagnosis has a tremendous impact on everybody, their family, their friends and especially their children. We oftentimes hear from the patients themselves saying the worst part of their cancer journey, it wasn’t chemo, it wasn’t exhaustion; it was the fear, the stress of talking to my kids about it,” DeBruhl said.
The CLIMB (Children Lives Include Moments of Bravery) is a six-week program providing intervention to support the emotional needs of children with a parent or caregiver who has cancer. It helps to normalize feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear and anger and provide ways for kids to communicate their feelings, increase their knowledge about cancer and facilitate communication between parent and child.
“These children feel alone. They have fears like, ‘Did I cause this? Am I going to catch this? Is my mom gonna die?’ These are common feelings, and we have to be able to help them understand that they are not alone, there are other kids just like them,” DeBruhl said.
DeBrul shared a story about one of the children in the program named Amie whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. One of the program facilitators saw Amie sitting alone in her mother’s hospital room during a school day.
“This child should be in school, but this had been her life. The mom was diagnosed with cancer when she was two years old, and now at nine years old… this had been her whole life. Luckily, that hospital had a CLIMB program,” DeBruhl said.
Amie was enrolled in the program the following week, and during one of the activities she was asked to draw how she was feeling inside. She drew a picture of herself sitting over a ledge all alone in darkness.
“That feeling of, ‘I have no idea who to talk too. I have no idea how to process this.’ Unfortunately, that little girl’s mother passed away the following week. We missed our chance with her. We should have been there earlier,” DeBruhl said.
DeBruhl feels a connection to the work because his mother lost her father to cancer. More than 2 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year and many of them are parents, DeBruhl said.
DeBruhl said another young girl who joined their program at 12 years old went on to volunteer for CLIMB and become a nurse at the same hospital where she attended the program.
“She credits CLIMB with giving her the emotional intelligence… that carried her even into adulthood,” DeBruhl said.