The National Children’s Cancer Society
The National Children’s Cancer Society Helps Survivors Thrive After Trauma
The National Children’s Cancer Society (NCCS)has a front-row seat to a phenomenon that is being increasingly studied by medical researchers – Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). It’s the ability of the survivors of critical diseases to make positive life changes in the aftermath of their struggle through treatment.
Through the Beyond the Cure Ambassador Scholarship Program, the NCCS witnesses PTG firsthand in pediatric cancer survivors and helps teens and young adults find meaningful ways to turn their cancer trauma into a lifelong triumph.
“We know that many survivors adapt positively to the cancer experience, becoming more resilient to adversity, motivated by hope, and driven to pursue an education and make a difference in the lives of others,” said Julie Komanetsky, vice president of patient and family services for the NCCS.
“For many, cancer has strengthened their character, intensified their love of life, and instilled a sense of duty to truly make a difference in the lives of others.”
It isn’t a new concept that a life-threatening illness can serve as an opportunity for self-renewal and spiritual and personal growth. What is new is the systematic research now being done by psychologists, social workers, counselors, and scholars. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) now has a website devoted to research and theory on the processes underlying Post Traumatic Growth.
They identify five general areas where PTG occurs:
- A sense that new opportunities have emerged from the struggle, opening up possibilities that were not present before.
- Closer relationships with other individuals, and/or an increased sense of connection to others who suffer.
- An increased sense of one’s own strength, i.e. “If I lived through that, I can face anything”.
- A greater appreciation for life in general.
- A deepening of their spiritual lives.
Jennifer Toth, who was diagnosed at 2 1/2 with a rare liver cancer, turned her life-threatening challenge into an opportunity for personal growth through community service and her career choice. A four-year scholarship recipient of the NCCS, she has volunteered on numerous projects for the organization. “It’s been wonderful,” she said. “I’ve always been really interested in giving back to all the organizations that supported my family and help a lot of other families.”
Jennifer has served for many years at a summer camp for kids with cancer, and is pursuing a career as a pediatric oncology nurse. She graduated from college last month and is hoping to work at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia on the same oncology unit where she was treated as a child.
Traditionally, there has been a focus on negative outcomes of pediatric cancer, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, a 2014 study by St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital found there is no difference in PTSD rates among children who have had cancer and those who have not, and even reported that “young cancer patients were also more likely than children who experience other stressful events to report having benefited from the experience.”
The NCCS requires Beyond the Cure scholarship recipients to become “ambassadors” for the organization. They contribute volunteer hours, represent the NCCS at events for children with cancer and their families, and mentor children with cancer. Through those activities the NCCS team gets to witness the positive impact community service has on survivors’ health and outlook on life.
“We get to see firsthand the strength and resilience these young people have because of the journey they’ve been through with cancer, and how they use it for good in their own lives and for others,” said Pam Gabris, Beyond the Cure coordinator. “It’s inspirational, and it gives hope to children and families who are now going through the cancer journey.”
About the NCCS
The mission of The National Children’s Cancer Society is to provide emotional, financial and educational support to children with cancer, their families and survivors. To learn more about the NCCS and its support services, visit thenccs.org. The National Children’s Cancer Society is a 501C(3) organization that has provided more than $61 million in direct financial assistance to more than 36,000 children with cancer. To contact the NCCS, call (314) 241-1600. You can also visit the NCCS on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thenccs.