Catherine Stier, a breast cancer survivor, discusses her new book "When A Kid Like Me Has Cancer" a story of how to talk about cancer with children.
When my editor contacted me about writing a picture book about a truly tough subject, childhood cancer, I was surprised.
In a way, it made sense. As an author of several children’s books, I had previously written about kids facing difficult situations, from dealing with lice to coping with war, but within that last year, I had also fought my own mostly private battle with cancer. Even my editor didn’t know.
Can I create this book? I wondered. It would mean focusing on a disease that had caused me much fear and continued to impact my life. Thinking about children who faced cancer was heartbreaking. What would I have to offer them?
Still, it had not been so long ago that I had found myself in my local San Antonio public library, pulling thick books about breast cancer off the shelf and thinking, What is this thing – cancer – that is suddenly part of my life?
But the truth is - those library books helped. They let me know what was happening to me, what to expect, and that I wasn’t alone. They informed me about the actions I could take to support the best outcomes. And in a way, they revealed to me that there were people out there – including those authors – who cared about helping cancer fighters like myself navigate this difficult time.
So, I had to ask myself: If books helped me, didn’t a child with cancer deserve the same?
I agreed to submit a draft that became the book WHEN A KID LIKE ME FIGHTS CANCER, published by Albert Whitman & Co., 2019, in partnership with the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation.
Some pretty amazing things happened after that. The book received positive reviews from the professional review journals, including School Library Journal which called it “indispensable” for families dealing with childhood cancer. Even the medical journal, the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health praised and recommended the book.
Then I was invited as a guest speaker at the San Antonio Express-News Book and Author Luncheon, an annual event that benefits cancer research. I was the last speaker and nervously approached the podium, but my little speech about my experience with lobular breast cancer and the writing of my children’s book was received warmly by the nearly one thousand in attendance. I was flattered to find that my name, along with the other guest authors, was even embossed on an elegant leather bookmark distributed as a memento of the day.
Most meaningful of all, though, was a small item I found listed in the event’s program. I learned that through a charitable endowment, a copy of WHEN A KID LIKE ME FIGHTS CANCER would be donated to all branches of the San Antonio library and every public elementary school library in San Antonio.
I caught my breath, realizing how things had come full circle. So many libraries, including the very library where I had sought the solace and information offered in cancer books would now have my book available for the youngest fighters of this disease and their families. I hoped that like me, they’d find information, learn what to expect, and above all, come to know the most important thing, the vital thing that I myself had discovered earlier— that they aren’t fighting alone.
Catherine Stier, a breast cancer survivor, is the author of several honor-winning children’s book including the Kirkus-starred review A DOG’S DAY children’s chapter book series. She holds a master’s degree in reading and literacy and has served as a magazine writer, newspaper columnist and writing instructor. Visit her website at www.catherinestier.com and follow her on Twitter at @Catherine_Stier