CancerCare Counts: Therapy is child’s play at Lancaster charity

Photo Neil Cross'Helen Fry of Cancercare by the derelict woodwork block CancerCare would like to transform into a young people's area
Photo Neil Cross'Helen Fry of Cancercare by the derelict woodwork block CancerCare would like to transform into a young people's area

Cancer. The word alone sparks fear and uncertainty, raises infinite questions and can suddenly and immediately put a whole family’s life on hold.

While adults try to come to terms with the situation, children can often be overlooked as parents struggle to give enough of themselves to the child.

Photo Neil Cross'Helen Fry of Cancercare in 'The Loft'  with reporter Nick Lakin

Photo Neil Cross'Helen Fry of Cancercare in 'The Loft' with reporter Nick Lakin

CancerCare child therapist Helen Fry understands as well as anyone how children can be affected by the trauma of cancer.

Helen has worked for the charity for three years, and is currently training in play therapy in Edinburgh, learning the language of symbolism and metaphor.

This is often the only way a child can communicate their feelings when the worst happens.

“It draws on a lot of different theories,” she said.

Children tend to work better through metaphor and play

Child therapist Helen Fry

“Counselling, Jung’s work around symbolism, ideas about attachment and child development.

“Children tend to work better with metaphor and through play. They play out what is happening within their families.

“Some children like having that extra bit of space and time and attention that’s separate from everything else.”

CancerCare offers up to 20, 50-minute sessions of one-to-one meetings in their specially adapted space, The Loft.

Photo Neil Cross'Helen Fry of Cancercare in 'The Loft'

Photo Neil Cross'Helen Fry of Cancercare in 'The Loft'

It’s a light and airy room that opens up directly onto a pretty garden area at the back of the main CancerCare building in Slyne Road.

The garden houses a rundown outbuilding that the charity would like to renovate into a space for older children and teenagers.

But it’s all dependant on funding.

In The Loft, Helen has assembled a selection of items that help children play out their fears and worries.

A sandpit is a popular choice, with a whole host of characters, figures and natural items that a child can use to express themselves.

“The child might choose an ambulance and nurse and play out a scene,” Helen explains.

“We try to stay in the metaphor, and in the world they’re creating.

“They’re addressing their issues but play is the language.

“If we say something like, ‘what’s it like that your dad has cancer?’, a child would find that difficult to put into words, so we do a lot with puppets, acting out, dressing up, songwriting, art, masks, even sword fighting.

“Some children just like sitting quietly, or reading, and some children like going into the little house.

“One child went in and threw everything out and then wanted me to bring them food.

“Another child would come each week, get a car and play in the sand. The wheels would get gummed up, and he’d wash it until the wheels were released. He’d do this over and over for several weeks.

“Sometimes I don’t know exactly what is occuring but it seems that it’s something important for that child.

“Children are amazing at expressing themselves, they’re so much closer to something that we seem to lose as adults.

“Some children want to make a memory jar or memory box. When they’re little they know what they need, when they’re a bit older I might suggest some things for them to do.

“Play is a child’s natural means of communicating and if you pay attention to what a child is doing it’s often very revealing, and they do play out their feelings and experiences.

“This is not play to get a child to talk about something, the play is the therapy.

“It can be really overwhelming sometimes.”

Helen works at CancerCare three days a week alongside other therapists both for children and adults.

“One of the other things we do is offer sessions for parents about how to talk to their child about cancer,” she said.

“Most of the literature says families should be as open as possible, explain what’s happening, and include their child in conversations.

“It’s about working with that parent to find a way to say what they need to say.”

Helen said the older children and teenage space was a priority for the charity.

“We’re thinking a log cabin with a wood burner, books and art materials, a space to relax in.

“It would be a young people’s space and possibly there’s more we could do with families.

“Family therapy sessions would be a good thing.”

lTo make a donation text CCAR31 to 70070 with the amount you wish to donate, donate at, or to arrange an event to support CancerCare email the fundraising team at