How you can pitch in to help kids dealing with cancer

House of Wellness TV co-host Jo Stanley and her family will turn their living room into a makeshift campsite for a wonderful cause – and you can join the fun too.

Each year, around 750 Australian kids under 14 are diagnosed with cancer – and so starts a harrowing battle that can have a deep and lasting impact on the child, their family and friends.

Children’s cancer charity Camp Quality plays a hugely important role in supporting families affected by cancer, and helping them create positive memories amid their battle.

Its services and programs – including camps and family fun days – are created especially for kids whose lives have been touched by cancer, either through their own diagnosis or that of a parent or sibling.

As around 7000 kids eagerly wait for these activities to resume following the coronavirus pandemic, Camp Quality is launching its inaugural “Camp In” for kids facing cancer.

Camp Quality ambassador Jo, husband Darren, daughter Willow, 11, and Labrador Daisy will be among those pitching a tent in bedrooms, living rooms and backyards across Australia on Saturday, July 4.

“Isolation has given us all a small taste of what these kids live with every day due to their suppressed immune systems,” says Jo.

“Camp Quality’s Camp In is a great, fun way to get the whole family involved in raising funds so kids facing cancer get the chance to be kids again.

“We’re very excited to be a part of it. Let’s hope we can toast our marshmallows without setting off the smoke alarm!”

How to join Camp Quality’s Camp In

Head to the Camp Quality Camp In website to sign up and get your Camp In survival guide.

Then, get your family and friends on board to join in or help your fundraising efforts.

The first 1000 participants to raise $100 will receive a $20 Aldi voucher to help buy their survival pack goodies.

On Saturday, July 4, grab your sleeping bag, pillow and air mattress, and set up your at-home campsite.

Funds raised will go towards Camp Quality’s hospital, school, home and other programs, including camps, fun days, puppet program, retreats, educational apps and online resources.

How to talk to kids about serious illness

It’s a sad reality that many kids will at some point learn that a friend or family member is dealing with a serious illness like cancer.

Children are often more resilient than we give them credit for.

But when someone close to them has a serious illness, it can be hard to know how to explain it to them.

children and serious illness

Here is what to consider when facing such a difficult conversation with your child:

Keep the chat age appropriate

The age of the child will determine how you should deliver the message, says Australian Psychological Society president Ros Knight.

“We don’t use big technical terms with three-year-olds, and we try to keep things reasonably contained with younger kids, but as they get older, we want them to have closer to an adult understanding of what’s going on,” Ros says.

Raising Children Network executive director Professor Julie Green says toddlers are still learning how concepts fit together, and think in very concrete ways.

“However, at this age they understand the differences between feeling happy, sad, afraid or angry,” she says.

“With school-age children it’s possible to talk in more detail – they are able to understand more complex emotions.”

Parents should provide lots of reassurance to help them understand new and complex feelings, says Prof Green.

“A school age child’s brain is developing rapidly and can absorb new information quickly. They have more exposure to tough topics through friends at school or the media,” she says.

Ros says parents know their own kids best and will be best-placed to know how much information they can take on board and when.

Don’t hide the truth

While previous generations didn’t often talk to children about difficult topics such as serious illness, Ros says that approach is not helpful.

“Children always know more than we think they do,” she says.

“Children should not be assumed to be little adults, but part of the journey and kept informed.”

Prof Green says open and honest communication sets children up well for later in life.

“By encouraging open communication about tough topics, children will learn they can always talk to their parents  if something is worrying them,” she says.

“This provides a great a great foundation for open communication in the teenage years.

“It can strengthen children’s ability to think, solve problems and it helps to build resilience.”

Understand there may be behavioural changes

Be aware that when kids learn someone they know has a serious illness, it can be common for behaviours to change, says Ros.

You may notice your child starting to “act out”, develop anxiety or sleep issues.

If this happens, Ros recommends remaining open and honest as the best way to manage behavioural changes.

Don’t hide your own emotions

Help your child feel as comfortable as possible before starting your conversation and ensure they’re settled.

Your discussion may be confronting, and Ros says it’s OK to show your own emotions when telling children difficult news.

“It’s OK to be upset and crying yourself,” she says.

Remind them they will be OK

Hearing serious news can be overwhelming for children, so it’s important to reassure them about their own wellbeing.

“Kids don’t have any capacity to look after themselves, so they always have a concern if they will be safe and looked after. Reinforce they will be looked after,” Ros says.

Challenge chief executive David Rogers says dispelling myths is also important.

“Make sure the child knows (if applicable) the condition is not contagious, let them know they have done nothing wrong and reinforce the outcome is more likely to be a good one, if that’s the case,” he says.

Get ready for question time

It can get awkward, but Ros says adults should give children the opportunity to ask questions.

“Some might be silly but you need to take them seriously,” she says.

“Some might be way too pointed and you’ll need to go away and think about your answer.”

Written by Sally Heppleston.