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When I was nine years old, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time we were living in a small town in Massachusetts, south of Boston. My mother's diagnosis was devastating to our family. We didn't know what it would mean in the long run.
Her illness was extremely tough for me. When she came home from the hospital after surgery, I felt it was my job to be strong for her. After her first chemotherapy treatment, she was very weak and sick to her stomach all the time. I was really angry. My mom was such a good person. How could this be happening to her?
But I never expressed my true feelings to her. I thought she had enough to worry about without having to worry about me.
Halfway through her treatments my dad was transferred to California; my mom, my sister, and I stayed in Boston so my mom could finish her treatments. My dad flew back and forth every two weeks for five months. It was hard on him not being with Mom and it was hard on us not having him home.
My mom noticed that I was not doing well with our situation. Thinking I would feel better if I could talk to someone, she sent me to a psychologist. Actually, I felt worse. I didn't like the idea that a professional had a preconception of what a child with a parent with cancer felt like. It felt like I couldn't be my own person.
I spent more and more time alone in my room. I was content playing with my Legos—they never talked back to me.
We finally made it through the treatments, and Mom started to regain her strength. She asked me to go with her to the Susan Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's annual Race for the Cure®. We went to the race, and Mom was up on the stage during the survivors' ceremony with about 300 other women wearing pink visors. Together they were celebrating life.
I thought at the time how great it was that she had such a tremendous support group. My next thought was that many of those women probably had children, and wouldn't it be great if all of us who had parents with cancer could have such a group?
I wrote a letter to the Komen Foundation in Orange County, asking them for funding to start a hotline that kids could call and talk to other kids who knew what it was like to have a parent with cancer.
They gave me $300 and 300 names of kids I could send letters to. I started the group, and I named it the Komen Kids.
I set up a twenty-four-hour hotline in my bedroom and started receiving calls. I probably got around a hundred phone calls, and there were eight or nine kids calling on a regular basis. We felt better knowing we were all experiencing anger, sadness, and fear.
One weekend I invited the eight regular callers to come to my house, and I brainstormed with them about my ideas for a support group. We wanted it to remain kids helping kids, but we knew we would have to have a psychologist with us.
Three of the other kids and I interviewed about eight psychologists, and hired one in a pizza parlor in Newport Beach. He understood that we wanted him with us for supervision, but that we wanted to run our own support group.
We decided our first meeting would be at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. We wanted a place where kids could get away from the cancer environment. We knew that we couldn't have it at a hospital, because hospitals were viewed as the enemy by most of us. That's where our parents went and got sicker. At nine years old, we weren't smart enough to realize that in order for our parent to get better, he or she had to get sicker through chemicals.
Thirty-two kids came to the first meeting. Kids talked about their own situations, their feelings, and the problems they were having. One girl was crying as she told us she hated going home—how she hated seeing her mom throwing up, bald, and sleeping all the time, how she hated that the cancer invaded not only her mom but their entire family's life. Another girl sitting next to her gently took her hand to comfort her.
After that first meeting I felt better than I had since my mom was diagnosed. My own feelings were validated, and I knew the group meeting had helped the girl who was so upset. Helping another kid had helped me.
We sent flyers to doctors in Orange County to make sure as many kids as possible heard about our group. We were profiled in the media, and that really helped get the word out. As we grew I renamed the group Kids Konnected, and it became its own nonprofit organization. All our programs are free of charge. We're totally supported by donations.
Another chapter was started in Oklahoma City six months after our first meeting in Orange County. Now, six years later, we've got eighteen chapters around the nation in twelve states, ranging from West Palm Beach Florida all the way up to Vancouver, Washington. This year, with a budget of $300,000, we will help nearly 10,000 kids.
We also have summer camps, so kids can get out of the cancer environment. This year, the seven- to thirteen-year-olds went to Catalina Island to snorkel, swim, and bike ride. The fourteen- to eighteen-year-olds went whitewater rafting for four days. The camps are free of charge to kids, and if they're coming in from out of town, we provide a home stay for them and a day at Disneyland before they go to camp.
Another program is our Teddy Bear Outreach Group. We send teddy bears to newly diagnosed families. The teddy bear is a scruffy brown bear. We tie a ribbon around its neck and attach a card to the ribbon that says,
I'm just a little tattered teddy
With not a lot to do
Except to be a friend to comfort
Someone just like you!
If you're happy, sad, or have a tear
Just hug me, squeeze me,
And hold me near.
Lots of friends you can meet
When you call on the phone
They will always remind you that
You're not alone!
"Friendship, Understanding, Education, and Support for kids
who have a parent with cancer."
One day, Brian, one of our charter members, came to me and told me we needed to have a grief workshop. His mother had had cancer when we first started the support group and had since passed away. He said, "There needs to be more here for kids like myself who have lost a parent to cancer."
When Brian's mom died, his family put together a memorial fund for Kids Konnected and asked friends and family to donate to the fund in place of sending flowers. We used that money to start Karen's Kids, in memory of Brian's mom.
Four times a year, we send kids who have lost a parent to cancer to a six-week grief workshop. They learn how to deal with their pain and anger, how to say good-bye, and how to move forward with their lives. This is the only program the kids don't run. A psychologist does most of the work for the workshop.
But kids helping kids is the core of Kids Konnected. Adult volunteers supervise our program. We believe that the best way to help ourselves when we're in emotional pain is to help others. Our youth leaders attend monthly training sessions that teach them the skills necessary to be great facilitators. Every youth leader has had a parent with cancer, so they understand what the kids are going through.
At the group support meetings every month kids share their feelings, but they also learn more about the disease. A group may have a doctor come speak about chemotherapy. We also use art therapy during the support meetings. It's a comfortable way for kids to express themselves. If a group is fairly silent or hyper, an art project is great as an icebreaker.
Some kids stay in a support group a couple of months and feel they have gotten enough help. Others, whose parents are critically ill, may stay in the group until the parent passes away, and still others stay in the group for a year after their parent is gone. Some never leave. They want to help other kids the way they were helped, so they become youth leaders.
In addition to our hotline we have a web site where kids can go online to get information, email us, and receive newsletters and meeting notices in their area. We also have a database on books about cancer and coping skills.
My favorite program is our support groups, because that's where the kids get the most help. That's where I got the most help.
I'm one of the fortunate kids. My mom is now an eightyear cancer survivor. She volunteers in the Kids Konnected office every day. When we've had a really great day—we know at least one child was helped—my mom will start to cry. She'll tell me how grateful she is to be here, alive, sharing these moments with me.
I spent my high school years working hard to reach as many kids as possible. I would take classes at school in the morning and arrive at the office at 12:30 each day. As graduation approached and I knew I would be leaving for college in the fall, I started training other students to take over running the day-to-day office duties.
McDonald's gave me a $50,000 scholarship and named me the nation's top entrepreneur for creating the hotline—a hotline that more than 6,000 kids use to express their feelings and challenges. I have received other awards and scholarships—among them a Prudential Spirit of Community award and scholarship, a React Take Action scholarship, and a National Caring Institute Award—making it possible for me go to college at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. I'm a freshman majoring in political science and minoring in community-service learning.
I will be forever grateful for the healing power of Kids Konnected. The success of the program lies in the tears of a child being wiped away by a caring friend and in the quiet "thanks" of a sick parent who can worry less about the emotional stress their illness has on their child. Kids helping kids is what we're all about. Because of our "Konnection," a child does not have to be alone anymore.
"Friendship, understanding, education, and support for kids who have a parent With cancer." Contact: Kids Konnected, P. O. BOX 603, Trabuco Canyon, California 92687. Tel: 714-380-4334 OR 800-899-2866. Fax: 949-582-3989. Web Site: www.kidskonnected.org.
From the Eyes of a Child
I THOUGHT MY BOYFRIEND HUNG THE MOON AND THE STARS. By the time I was fourteen, we were having sex—I did whatever I could to make him happy. I loved him with all my heart.
The day after Christmas I told my mother I needed to talk to her. She was cooking supper and said she didn't have time. I said, "No, Mom, we need to talk now. You need to sit down." That's when I told her I thought I was pregnant. I was in eighth grade.
Her first question was by whom. Then she said, "Never mind, I know who." She left the room and didn't say anything else to me about it for a few days.
We went to the doctor a few days later. I was three months pregnant.
I had often had irregular menstrual cycles, so when I missed my period in November it didn't really worry me. Some of the time my boyfriend and I had not used protection, never thinking anything could happen. But when I missed my period in December I started to worry. When the doctor told us I was pregnant, I started crying right there. My mom cried too. It was horrible.
I told my boyfriend and he said he would be there for the baby—no matter what happened with us.
Two weeks later, I learned that my best friend was pregnant by him, too. He didn't deny it. I cried myself to sleep every night. I was a total wreck.
I never really thought that an abortion was the right thing to do. My parents are divorced, and when my mom and I went to my dad to tell him I was pregnant, his first word was abortion. He said he would pay for me to have an abortion. My mom wanted me to have one too. Out of respect for them, I did think about it. But I told them I couldn't. My mom was really crushed. But she was supportive. From that point forward she made sure I got the prenatal care I needed.
I went to school up until the last six weeks. The teachers gave me work at home and I turned it in, and they graded it. If I needed help I called a teacher or one of them came to my house and helped me.
At this time—in my eighth month—my grandparents were getting sick and needed somebody to help care for them. My mom bought a house next door to theirs to be there for them.
I was glad to be moving. My boyfriend lived right across the street from me. Before I got pregnant we were together all of the time. But now he avoided me.
I was taking a shower at my grandparents one night when I felt a sharp pain. Grandma called my mom next door, and she took me to the hospital right away. The next day, July 22, 1994, I had my son, Robbie. He weighed eight pounds, four ounces. I was fifteen years old.
Mom called my boyfriend to tell him, but he never showed up to see his child. I decided right then that it was his choice—I wouldn't ask him again to see his child.
The Department of Human Services in Knox County Tennessee assigned a PARTNERS case manager to me. I don't think I would have made it without them. PARTNERS is a teen-parenting service that uses an intensive case management approach in the home, school, and community. I received individual counseling and emotional support and supportive services such as child care, transportation, medical services, and referrals. As long as I was in school and attended weekly group meetings, PARTNERS paid for a percentage of my child care.
I started back to school when Robbie was only a month old. I wasn't even old enough to have a driver's license. Mom picked me up after school, drove me to daycare to get Robbie, and took us home.
I fed him, bathed him, did my homework, played with him, and put him to bed—every day. Sometimes I'd be up until 1 A.M. or 2 A.M. making bottles and doing homework. And I had to get up the next morning at 5:30 A.M. just to get myself ready and then get him ready and off to daycare so I'd be on time for school.
I didn't have many friends. Everybody knew me; everybody was nice to me, but I didn't have any close friends. They didn't want to drag a baby around.
All I had time for was school, work, and Robbie. At lunch the girls talked about the weekend parties, shopping, makeup, clothes, and after-school activities. I listened to them and thought I was never going to get to buy new clothes like the other girls. I had to buy diapers. I was never going to have new shoes like everyone else. Robbie needed shoes.
I finally quit eating with them and went to the school office to visit with the principals—I had more in common with them than anyone my age.
I got my own apartment my senior year. Robbie and I needed our own space. After school I worked at a dry cleaners until 7 P.M. Then I'd go get Robbie from my mother. She picked Robbie up from day care every day. My paycheck was spent before I even got it. I paid $300 in rent and $320 in childcare. Then I had to buy food and pay the bills—electricity, phone, and water.
One day, our school had a teen fair with lots of different nonprofit groups represented. One nonprofit group, the Florence Crittenton Agency, Inc., was recruiting for a program called STARS (Students Teaching and Respecting Sexuality). STARS is made up of teens who have had children and teens who have chosen to abstain from sex.
I knew right then I wanted to join. If I could prevent one teen from having to struggle as I have, then it would be worthwhile.
STARS promotes abstinence. I speak to middle school and high school students and tell them the benefits of abstinence. I tell them I have made the choice not to have sex again until I'm married. I tell them that if they made a bad choice to have sex they can make a good choice to stop. I give them facts about pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and contraception, and encourage them to consider the consequences of their behavior and make their own choices.
I share my story. I tell them I made the choice to have sex, and I made the choice to have Robbie, so it was my responsibility to take care of him—a consequence I have to live with.
I tell them how my mom asked me, when I first got pregnant, how I would take care of a child. I said to her, "I don't know, but I'll love him." It's true that you can love a child—and I do love Robbie so much—but no matter how much you love your baby, love will not buy diapers, it will not put food on the table or a roof over your baby's head.
I talk about all the things I missed—football and basketball games, going to the mall with friends, after-school activities—things so important in a teen's life.
I also volunteer for PARTNERS because their emotional and financial support was so important to me. After meeting with Tennessee state legislators who were working on new welfare reforms, I was even elected chair of a new advisory board.
Excerpted from TEENS with the COURAGE to GIVE by JACKIE WALDMAN. Copyright © 2000 Jackie Waldman. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Foreword by Steven A. Culbertson
Introduction by Jackie Waldman
1 Kids Konnected: Jon Wagner-Holtz
2 From the Eyes of a Child: Ronna Vaughn
3 A Peaceful Warrior: Domingo Guyton
4 It's What You Do with What You Have: Lo Dietrich
5 Home Is Where the Heart Is: Niesha Sutton
6 An Oscar-Winning Performance: Kirsten Lawson
7 The Fight for Life: Jon Byington
8 Special Delivery: Avvi Agent
9 Building Bridges: Charlie Simmons
10 Born to Win: Jake Repp
11 Break the Cycle: Tessa Thompson
12 My Voice: Brandon Fernandez
13 My Heart Overflows: Melissa Chappell
14 Guardian Angel: Maria Piñedo
15 Climb Every Mountain: Tori Scaglione
16 Watch Out; Help Out: Horace Polite-Cobb
17 That's What Friends Are For: Brandee Terrell
18 For the Love of Learning: Arundel Bell
19 The Ripple Effect: Talli Osborne
20 Young or Old, Big or Small, AIDS Affects Us All: Allison Wignall
21 Believe in Who You Are: Mario Gonzalez
22 Go for the Gold: Michael Munds
23 On Wings of Love: Yesenia Nieves
24 The Only Vote That Counts: Nikki Binz
25 Full Circle: Caroline Shramm
26 A Living Legacy: John Serrano
27 The Cello Cries On: Jason Crowe
28 The Best of Both Worlds: Maiko Xiong
29 More Than Meets the Eye: Jorge Cedillo
30 Do Unto Others: Liz Garson
Group Discussion Guide
Teen Resource Guide
Posted April 23, 2000
What a wonderful way to honor the teens in our nation who are a making a difference today. I was blessed to read, not only the story by Brandee Terrell about how she has dealt with my sons death, but also how other youth have risen above their own situations and are helping others. Thank you for letting us hear about these great kids.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 14, 2000
I loved reading this book about the good things teens did. We rarely hear about those. These teens are a great example for many of us adults. They are to be praised for all that they have done, as the author should be praised for writing about them!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 15, 2000
I am the father of Melissa in Chapter 13. Her mother and I were touched and moved by her and all of teens in the book! We, (her parents) in addition to the local Girl Scout members are very proud!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 28, 2000
Posted March 23, 2000