Scarlet is 12-years old and unlike any child we have told the story of before.
She doesn’t have cancer.
She doesn’t have a brother or sister with cancer.
But Scarlet knows the pain of cancer all too well.
In March last year, the most important person in her life, her Mum Michelle, was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Three months later, Michelle was also diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.
Scarlet is frightened of losing her Mum. Her once happy and secure life now seems a thing of the past.
Michelle clearly remembers the day that Scarlet’s childhood was cruelly interrupted:
“I’d gone to the doctor’s to get my results. When I got home, Scarlet just looked at my face and before I could say a word, she said, ‘It’s cancer isn’t it Mummy?’ I just took her in my arms and she started sobbing.”
Like all mums, Michelle wants to give her daughter her best. For Scarlet to have a happy, normal childhood. But cancer is threatening that, as Michelle puts it so clearly:
“Scarlet’s been thrown into this adult world of cancer. "
"She’s always seen me as a strong mum and it’s been very hard on her. I’ve tried to shelter her from it but it’s so hard when she sees me weak and just lying there.
I just physically can’t take her out as much as I should and Scarlet doesn’t want to have friends over for sleep-overs.
I feel so guilty and sorry for her.”
Children like Scarlet are also losing their childhoods to cancer, but in a different way. They’re having their childhoods stolen too, and there is very little help or support for them.
There is no national organisation taking care of these children’s needs.
If we don’t help them, who will? Please help give these ‘forgotten’ kids some of the childhood that cancer is stealing from them.
Scarlet recently started high school. It’s an emotional time for any kid as they worry about making new friends and fitting in. But for Scarlet, it’s been especially hard. She says:
“Now I’m in high school, I’m trying to keep Mum’s cancer to myself. I’m afraid I’ll get picked on because Mum has no hair and no boobs. Kids make jokes about that sort of thing.”
Scarlet has been worried about “Mum’s cancer not being able to be cured,” and has needed all the support she can get. But she doesn’t feel like her friends and kids at school will understand.
With the exception of a mother who adores her, and a brilliant big sister who is only 18 but wise beyond her years, Scarlet has felt alone in a world of pain and fear that’s so hard when you’re only 12.
But recently, that changed – and quite dramatically.
Scarlet went to one of Camp Quality’s pilot Kids Imapacted by Carer’s Cancer (KICC) Camps.
These KICC Camps are designed to help kids facing the cancer diagnosis of a parent or primary carer make sense of what’s going on in their lives. They provide peer support so kids understand they are not alone and learn new ways to cope with emotional turmoil. And, just as importantly, these Camps give children like Scarlet the chance to escape cancer for a while and to just be kids again.
The excitement in this little girl’s voice as she recalled her experience was memorable:
“It was so good, so good!
There was archery and a flying fox and the disco was really good too. And I met heaps of friends just like me.
It kind of changed how I think about the whole situation. It taught me different ways to handle it.”
The difference this KICC Camp made for Scarlet and the other 7–13 year olds who attended is profound. It gave them a chance to rediscover their childhoods and find ways to deal with their mum, dad or a carer’s cancer.
The Camp gave parents like Michelle a break – and the relief of knowing their kids were getting the fun and emotional support they need. Michelle told us:
“When I picked Scarlet up, she hugged me and wouldn’t let go for minutes. There was such happiness coming out of her; pure joy. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen her so happy and confident.
I think that meeting other kids that are going through the same thing has made Scarlet feel safe again. She knows she isn’t alone.”
We urgently need funds to run more KICC Camps.
Michelle told us:
“I often think what have I done to my kids? What have I done to Scarlet? What kind of childhood have I given her?”
You and I know that no parent fighting cancer, should ever have to think that way. And no child should ever have their childhood stolen from them like this.
For three days, Scarlet was able to escape what her Mum so insightfully described as, “this adult world of cancer”. She learned that she was not alone. She got to laugh and squeal and play games, just like every little boy or girl should.
But every year in Australia, there are 40,000 additional kids whose Mummy or Dad or carer is told they have cancer. These kids are facing the biggest challenges of their lives and I refuse to let them to do so alone, and without the joy and relief that a Camp Quality Camp can bring them.
Please support these kids and make sure they are not forgotten.