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    Today my daughter and my husband are on stage, while I am at work. They are in eTc’s production of HONK, which is a musical version of the Ugly Duckling story. My mom, my son and I are going to see the show on Saturday, which will be the last performance. I chaperoned last weekend, which meant chasing down little children and getting them into their costumes.

    I snuck out into the audience to watch my daughter in her big scene, and I was so proud! Her performance was polished, engaging, spot-on. Impressive even to a theatrical perfectionist like me. I heard similar feedback from others.

    I didn’t have a clue. She never practiced in front of me. Her comedic timing, her flawless British accent, and sweet right on pitch harmonies were a complete surprise to me.

    I wonder who it matters more for, me or her, that I was here to see it and be so proud? Probably her.

    If I had left the planet in 2007 or 2008, maybe I would have seen, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell her how proud I was of her. Because I am here, she knows.

    I feel truly blessed today.

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    Have you ever thought about what happens to small children when a parent has cancer? What about a sister or a brother?

    I know what happens, and it’s heartbreaking. My children are still carrying the scars of what they went through with me. When a child watches a parent fight cancer, life as she knows it is over. Our children are the casualties of our battles with life threatening illness, and support for them is sadly lacking.

    I want to change this! It’s not even something that would be hard to do, but it is urgently needed.

    What I’m talking about is a play group for children whose parents are facing life-threatening illness. What it would take is a place, a child therapist, some grownups who care, some art supplies and toys, and children. For kids, other kids are the most important part.

    What happens to a child when mommy, daddy, sister or brother is sick?

    First of all, complete disruption of established routines, which every child needs. Suddenly the house is full of people who seem very concerned. Mommy or Daddy can’t take care of them as usual, so others come in to care for them.

    If people are bringing meals, the usual food and eating rituals are disrupted.

    Children are frightened, but everyone is so absorbed in the care of the ill parent or sibling that these fears may go unacknowledged. Suddenly there is very little attention available for them. If their primary caretaker is ill, the abandonment and fear is terrible.

    They are afraid, but they know that everybody is worried so they may keep their fears and concerns to themselves.

    When I was fighting my cancer, I got my children into therapy. It wasn’t nearly enough but it helped. They both wanted me desperately, but I was busy fighting my disease, and often too ill to care for them. Others had to help me, but my children wanted me. I held onto the nightly bedtime ritual to try to maintain some kind of normalcy. I only missed bedtime lullabyes three times. If I did nothing else, I did that.

    Several things stand out in my memory of this time, about my children.

    First, a kind teacher at my children’s school took them under her wing and taught them to knit. My second and fourth grader gave up their recesses and lunch breaks to knit me a pink hat and slippers. I asked my daughter what that meant to her. She told me that it showed her that somebody cared. Other than Mrs. Tanamachi’s kindness, my daughter felt invisible. She felt that she was in another world, one that no one understood.

    I know that feeling. When my father was dying, I remember a brilliant Seattle day when the sun was bright, the water sparkling, and the air fresh. It was all wrong. My father was dying. My girl described this same feeling to me. How can everybody go about their business when her mommy was sick and could die?

    At this same school, two mean twins taunted my daughter that her mama was going to die. Kids can be so cruel.

    There was a child in my daughter’s class who had survived leukemia. His mother told me that her son preferred to be with my daughter, because she “gets him”. There was some kind of well of compassion that my daughter had, that helped this boy.

    What could be more therapeutic for these suffering children than other children?

    If you’ve ever been on Planet Cancer, you know that it feels as if you are alone in a strange world. Our children feel this even more keenly. Just having children in a space together would be hugely life-changing for them.

    What I want to create is a space for children to be together and know that they are not alone. I believe that every facility that treats life threatening illness should offer this component. My first thought was for children who have loved ones facing cancer, but other illnesses have similar impact. It wouldn’t be difficult. Someone just has to believe it’s important enough.

    Will you help? I don’t want money or your signature on a petition, or anything like that. What I want is for you to pass the word to anyone you think could help make this happen.

    This week I am going to discuss this project with my local cancer care facilities. What I am committed to is that someone who can make it happen will take it on.

    If my children had been able to get this kind of support, they would have experienced being supported through a rough time instead of it being the most terrifying time of their lives.

    If you have any ideas, resources, or suggestions to help me with this project, please contact me at elizabethdanu@rocketmail.com. We can make an impact on a child’s life that will last a lifetime.

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