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CLIMB ‘bought child’s worry and fear into perspective’

The CLIMB programme provides free counselling and support for children from aged from five to 13 whose parent, brother or sister, member of extended family or other significant adult such as a child minder has cancer.
Two Clare families who have benefited from the sessions provided by CLIMB leader, Marie Guiney-Kelly from Clare Sláinte An Chláir outline their experience. Dan Danaher spoke with these families about their experiences.

A KILNAMONA family, who participated in a free counselling programme specifically geared for children dealing with the emotional impact of cancer, have urged others in the same situation to follow in their footsteps.
When Pauline Roughan was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2019 she was handed a leaflet in University Hospital Limerick (UHL) on how to tell children about a cancer diagnosis.
A visit to the nearby Slaínte An Chláir made her aware of the CLIMB programme, which has made a huge difference to all the family.
She believes the Oncology Centre in Limerick should inform every cancer patient about the benefits of participating in the CLIMB programme, which she describes as a “hidden gem”.
Her son, Martin was nine and a half, while her daughter, Caoimhe was 12 years at the time of the diagnosis.
“Children from five years of age and older know about cancer. They have the perception from what we saw in 1980’s movies where people were vomiting down the sink. It is not like that now.
“A lot of cancer research has been undertaken, and tumours are analysed to establish what is the best treatment for different types of cancer.
“When a child hears a parent has cancer, they think they are going to die. The CLIMB programme is amazing, and it isn’t really publicised.
“I did a few different courses with the Irish Cancer Society, and other women had never heard of the CLIMB programme.
“A child’s worry is magnified compared to an adult. But by participating in CLIMB, it is brought into perspective,” she said.
Pauline and her husband, Eamonn, decided to tell their children everything about the cancer diagnosis, what the doctors said, and hid nothing from them.
She feels it is important to adopt a very open approach with children, and even brought Caoimhe to her genetic testing in Dublin, to reduce the risk of emotional difficulties in their teenage years.
The couple also appreciate the support of the Gaelscoil in Ennis.
Before her chemeotherapy started, Pauline got photographs taken of the treatment room in Limerick to try and demistify the whole treatment programme.
While Pauline, who was in her forties, needed chemotherapy, it wasn’t as bad as her initial perception. Following surgery in June, she started chemotherapy in August 2019.
She admits the initial diagnosis was difficult.
“Your world is turned upside down. It is like being hit by a truck when you are told you have cancer. You are entering the unknown.”
CLIMB leader, Marie Guiney-Kelly came out to their home on the outskirts of Kilnamona once a week for six weeks.
Adopting different themes every week with the help of art therapy, Marie spoke to Martin and Caoimhe about their feelings and fears following the cancer diagnosis.
The children outlined their concerns to Marie who addressed them, taught them coping skills, and in turn passed them on to their parents to work on for the next week.
Even when the CLIMB sessions ended, Pauline recalled Marie is still supporting the family, particularly when her father died last December.
Caoimhe was so impressed with the programme she said she would gladly do it again.
A few weeks ago, Caoimhe got upset when she saw a child in the locality with no hair as she thought the child had cancer.
It showed she was caring, kind and had empathy for this child and was still affected three years after her mother had got the all clear from cancer.
Contrary to what most people think, cancer brought benefits for the Roughan family. It prompted a better work life balance of work, rest and play in their lives. Their family network got tighter, and the couple knew who their real friends are.
Pauline recalled it wasn’t all doom and gloom. “We went for weekends away, which we enjoyed.
“Nobody knows how long we are going to live. If we did, we would live our lives at lot differently.
When I was going for chemotherapy treatment, I never used that word. I said I was going down for a coxtail like I was going to a party.
“Caoimhe was crying herself to sleep, which we didn’t realise because she was so worried.”
Describing the CLIMB programme as “brilliant”, Eamonn, explained no one asks for cancer, yet when it comes to your home, you think of the cancer patient first, but in the background husbands, wives, children and extended family are also affected.
“As a parent, you do your best to explain to your children what is going on and keep the worry away from them.
“They were nearly more knowledgable about cancer from the internet than we were ourselves. Having someone like Marie to come to your home and provide help was brilliant. We are not sure what is going on in the whole cancer world not to mind what we should be telling our children. You are entering into the unknown, so you need all the help you can get.
“Caoimhe asked me was I going to get counselling. I told Caoimhe I couldn’t wait to talk to her because when someone like this comes to your door and offers to help, you put your arms around them and hug them as tight as you can. That put her mind at ease.”

‘Everyone deals with it differently’

A CLARE widow has highly recommended the benefits for children who participate in the free CLIMB programme provided by Clare Sláinte An Chláir.
She lost her husband from lung cancer on St Stephen’s night in 2019, and managed to get him home a week before he died.
The widow recalled a huge amount of work had to be completed to provide medication, care and other services for a terminally-ill cancer patient in their home.
An intensive care nurse, who provided great care and support to her husband at home, suggested getting someone from outside the family, and recommended CLIMB leader, Marie Guiney-Kelly.
“I told my daughters everything about the cancer, I never held anything back. I felt my daughters would have to deal with cancer and laid things out regardless of their age. There was a forum where they could ask me questions, and I would answer in the best way I could.
Having agreed to participate in the CLIMB programme, Nancy (which is not her real name) said Marie spoke to her daughters individually and got a sense of how they were coping.
“I took comfort when Marie told me my daughters know what was going on and were as ok as you can be.
“When cancer hits a family it is indescribable unless a person has been through it themselves. When my husband died, it took a while to sink in.
“My eldest daughter was 16 at the time and was young daughter was 13. I didn’t reach out to Marie until the start of 2021. It can be hard to talk to someone close to you about cancer because they are also emotionally involved. It is a lot easier to talk to a professional person who is not emotionally involved who can provide coping tools.”
Nancy said having a local service like the CLIMB programme was “incredible” because a person affected by cancer doesn’t always know where to go to seek help, particularly for children.
“I don’t know where I would have brought my daughters, if I hadn’t known about the CLIMB programme. I can still contact Slainte an Chláir if I need a follow up appointment. It is a brilliant service.”
Her two daughters have visited Clare Sláinte an Chláir and thoroughly enjoyed completing oil painting at the centre.
She praised the approach Marie takes with children. “Marie is so approachable. There is an immediate rapport with her. You can talk to her the minute you meet her.
“Very few of my daughters’ peers have experienced the loss of a parent, so they don’t have peers they can confide in.”
Before John got sick, he was always very positive and in good humour. For his own reasons, his way of dealing with cancer was not talking about it. He enjoyed a large circle of friends who he could access for support when needed.
In addition to suffering from Stage Four lung cancer, the cancer went to his brain, which proved fatal. He was prepared to undergo any kind of cancer treatment to live as long as he could.
Nancy described cancer as a “rollercoaster”, as her husband got great results one Monday, but couldn’t get up out of bed the following day.
“What cancer can do to a person psychologically is soul-destroying. Dealing with a cancer diagnosis is a very emotional for the extended family. You can become super or hypersensitive because everyone is going through grief. Everyone deals with it differently and at different times.
As times goes on, it can get worse. It helps to keep busy.
“It is good to be able to reach out to someone. Two years after my husband’s death, it is great to know I can still ring Marie. You can’t put a price on that.
She praised the tremendous support she has received from her huband’s family, and really appreciated the online bingo provided by Sláinte an Chláir during the lockdown.
Last year, her youngest daughter decided to compose her English presentation on her father’s illness, and death from cancer.
In preparation for it, she asked her mother a lot of questions, as she had forgotten or had blocked out a lot of what she was previously told when her father was seriously ill.

(Names have been changed in the article for personal reasons)

by Dan Danaher

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