October 14, 2009
Book for Kids Answers Cancer Questions
When Beverlye Hyman Fead was diagnosed with fourth-stage inoperable cancer in 2002, her doctors gave her two months to live. After being treated with four different forms of chemotherapy and two experimental treatments, the eight large tumors lining her abdomen were reduced and she’s been able to live with the cancer.
Hyman Fead wrote about her experience with the disease in her 2004 book, “I Can Do This: Living With Cancer, Tracing a Year of Hope” (Santa Barbara Cancer Center Wellness Program Publishing, 2004), which her granddaughter, Tessa Mae Hamermesh, wanted to use for a class book report. But the second-grader’s mother discouraged her, believing that the subject was too heavy for elementary school.
Instead, Hamermesh and Hyman Fead, who live in Brentwood and Santa Barbara respectively, decided to write a book together, explaining cancer on a children’s level.
“I said we could meet for tea and cookies and then she could present me with a list of all her questions about cancer,” Hyman Fead said.
Published this week by the American Cancer Society, “Nana, What’s Cancer?” uses a question-and-answer format to encourage families to discuss cancer openly, in hope of making children less fearful about the disease.
“Most people hear the word, ‘cancer’ and it means ‘death’ to them. I want people to hear the word ‘cancer’ and have it mean ‘hope,’” said 11-year-old Hamermesh, who has lost other grandparents to cancer.
It isn’t just the cancer patients who suffer; their loved ones suffer, too, she said.
The book teaches the science of cancer in easy-to-understand ways, explaining words like “benign” and “malignant.” Nana and her granddaughter touch on how cancer isn’t something someone can catch, like the flu, and they discuss the roles genetics, environment and behavior play in the development of cancer. The book notes that although there are no age limits for cancer, the average age of a cancer patient is 66, and the best way to prevent cancer from spreading is by finding it early through tests.
Nana and her granddaughter don’t just stop at the physical ramifications of cancer — they linger over the emotional ones, too. Nana justifies her granddaughter’s sadness and anger over watching a loved one suffer from the disease by emphasizing that it’s OK to cry, but not to let those emotions make you feel guilty about continuing on with your own activities, like school and playing with friends. Laughing with friends and relatives not only improves your mood, but also in some cases can boost your immune system. When the granddaughter wants to know what she can do to help people with cancer, Nana tells her to send them cards, give them hugs and make them laugh.
Hamermesh has really taken this idea to heart, she says. “This summer I did a program called Cookies for Cancer. Basically, it was a bake sale where I earned $200 from selling cookies. I gave all the money to the American Cancer Society; 50 percent of it goes to cancer research, and the other 50 percent is given as scholarship money to cancer patients.”
Hyman Fead works as a legislative ambassador for the American Cancer Society and has received honors from the Israel Cancer Research Foundation of California for working with patients suffering from the disease.
“I speak all over the country, trying to pay forward my knowledge on the prevention and treatment for cancer. The most important thing I can say is that if you get diagnosed with the disease, do not suffer with it alone. It takes a team to beat cancer. These past seven years have been the most passionate of my life, and writing a book with my granddaughter was wonderful. She is my heart,” Hyman Fead said.
For more information about “Nana, What’s Cancer?” visit cancer.org/bookstore.