Cancer Care West, the west of Ireland cancer charity, is expanding its support service for children affected by a diagnosis of cancer in the family.
An expanded range of therapeutic play skills for children, in addition to a special programme for youngsters who are living with a parent diagnosed with cancer, will be provided by the Galway charity.
Cancer Care West reports a significant increase in the number of children being referred to its service where parent or sibling has been diagnosed with cancer.
"The diagnosis of cancer can be a very stressful time in the life of a family, particularly around the uncertainty it can cause, changes in things such as family routines, an increased level of anxiety, frequent hospitalisations and even physical changes such as an increased level of fatigue," says Dr Helen Greally, director of psychology and support services at Cancer Care West.
"While children can be very resilient, they can also feel stressed because generally they are much more intuitive and aware of these changes than adults believe they are."
For this reason, Cancer Care West has decided to make available an expanded range of therapeutic play skills to children in order to provide them with skills and innovative ways of dealing with cancer within the family.
"From a child’s perspective, the freedom to express their feelings and to feel included in the family’s experience of cancer is often the most helpful support we can give them," Dr Greally says.
"Although our natural instinct is to protect them from the cancer diagnosis, often what children imagine is worse than the reality and they can really benefit from talking about what’s happening in the family."
Play therapy uses a variety of play and creative art therapies, including toys, art, therapeutic storytelling, puppets, clay and playdough, and creative visualisation to help children find a way of speaking about how they are feeling.
With the support of the therapist, therapeutic play provides a safe space, medium and language whereby children can identify and communicate what they may have difficulty in articulating.
"Of paramount importance is for the child to be able to identify emotions and to explore anxieties," she says. "This can help them to learn skills to help them cope with what can be a stressful time in the family."
In addition to this service, Cancer Care West will also be launching the CLIMB programme at its service in Galway during the coming months. CLIMB is a programme for children aged five to 12 years who are living with the reality of a parent being diagnosed with cancer. This offers children in this age group the opportunity to get together to explore in a safe way the experience of a parent living with cancer.
Details of all services which are professionally delivered and free of charge are available at www.cancercarewest.ie or by calling 091 540040. The drop-in centre at 72 Seamus Quirke Road is open from 9am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday.