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Program Helps Young Cancer Survivor’s Classmates Understand Illness

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(credit: CBS) Rachel Slavik
Rachel Slavik joined the WCCO team in October of 2010 and is thrill...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – When a child has a major illness, the focus is on making sure they recover. But once they’re well, the transition back to everyday life can be a challenge. Classmates don’t always know how to react when a child returns to school, but the school re-entry program works to make that process easier.

It wasn’t long ago when cancer kept Julia Kauth from fully enjoying her life. Now an active 7-year-old, Julia has recovered from a rare form of kidney cancer.

“All of it, overall, was extremely difficult,” said Torey Kauth, Julia’s father.

One unexpected challenge of the healing process came when Julia became the center of unwanted attention when she returned to school.

“They would say I kind of looked like a boy,” Julia said.

To help her fellow students understand her illness, Julia relied on the Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota’s school re-entry program. Vicky Neis, a child life specialist, went to Julia’s class to answer questions about her cancer.

Neis said she explained to the schoolchildren that cancer is not contagious and that kids with cancer did nothing wrong to get it.

“They told everyone what I was going to be doing, and it happens to other kids,” Julia said.

Now in its twentieth year, the program has grown much. Last year, it helped 104 kids.

“I think it’s demystifying, in a way that’s positive, is really helpful,” Neis said.

When Julia heads back to class in the fall, she knows she won’t be a distraction.

“They don’t ask questions about me anymore, and they don’t stare at me,” Julia said.

Part of the education the program gives focuses on the child’s friends. It encourages them to take on the burden of answering questions if their friend doesn’t feel up to it.

The Children’s School Re-Entry Program is funded by Great Clips. From now until Friday, Great Clips stores in Minnesota and Wisconsin will donate a portion of the proceeds from every haircut. To learn more about the program, go to the Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota website.

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