Nana, What’s Cancer?

“Grandmas are moms with lots of frosting.”  ~ Author Unknown

Back when I was in high school, we were required to take a basic first aid course for part of our PE credit. I’ve always liked the slogan for that class:  “Knowledge Replaces Fear.”  The idea was that being given information about the nature of certain medical problems and of ways we could help would give us confidence to face them should the need arise.

Tessa Mae Hamermesh learned the value of this a lot earlier than I did. Now 12-years old, Tess has had a lot of experience with cancer in her young life.  All four of her grandparents have or have had it, including her grandmother, Beverlye Hyman Fead, who is now a 9-year survivor of stage IV uterine cancer.  It was Ms. Fead who Tess turned to with her questions about the disease, and who in turn answered these questions warmly and openly, all the while empowering her beloved granddaughter by encouraging her to think of ways she had been and could be helpful and supportive.

She was eight year-old when she first got the idea for this book, a story based on those conversations. She had watched her Nana Beverlye write “I Can Do This: Living with Cancer, Tracing a Year of Hope ”  (a title on North Star’s wish list!) and just as her grandmother gave hope and comfort to fellow patients through her writing, Tess thought she might be able to help other kids who have questions about cancer.

And thus, this beautifully illustrated book which the two of them wrote together was born. Each two to three page chapter answers a question a child might have, replacing fears with facts. These include both questions about the disease itself such as: Can you catch cancer? Do kids get it? How do you know if you have it? and concerns about its effects: Is it OK if I feel sad? How can I make my (loved one with cancer) feel better?  It explains the nature of cancer in language kids can understand. Terms that may be new to the reader are highlighted in boldface type, and are explained in a glossary in the back of the book.  It also has a reading list of other books that may be helpful.

Published by the American Cancer Society, the book is a little over 50 pages long. Full-page photo-realistic paintings and smaller illustrations by artist and cancer survivor Shennen Bersani  grace each chapter, making it feel almost like a picture book.  Though it was written with kids ages 8-12 in mind, I think with the beautiful artwork as a springboard, a parent could preview it and adapt it for reading to a younger child, as well.

“Nana, What’s Cancer?” can be found on the bookshelf labeled “For Children” in our patient library

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