Cancer isn’t contagious.
It turns out a lot of kids — and more than a few adults — don’t understand this. So Children’s Cancer Network stepped in with its H.O.P.E. program — delivering a message of science, empathy and compassion in schools.
“It is mind-boggling the [number of] children and adults who think that you can catch cancer,” says Sharon Wozny, a 30-year Mesa school teacher who is now a program specialist at Children’s Cancer Network in Chandler.
H.O.P.E. stands for Honoring Our Peers Everyday. Wozny helped hone the program and visits K-12 schools across the state, sharing basic facts about cancer and helping children understand they have nothing to fear from peers fighting the disease.
So far, the program has reached 7,000 Arizona kids, encouraging them to be H.O.P.E. ambassadors and show respect and acceptance to cancer fighters and all their peers. Children’s Cancer Network started the program in 2016 with a $30,000 grant from Fiesta Bowl Charities.
The main thing Wozny wants to impart is that fighting cancer doesn’t change who you are. She says it’s common for kids undergoing treatment to deal with bullying because their hair fell out or because they look different.
She also helps kids understand fighting cancer can be a long process — treating acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a common blood cancer, takes up to four years — and that kids fighting cancer have compromised immune systems, which means they can’t fight off a common cold or the flu. (And it’s good for classmates to wash their hands a lot and stay home when they’re sick.)
While still rare, pediatric cancer is now the leading cause of death by disease past infancy among children in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. It’s estimated more than 15,000 children and adolescents (ages 19 and younger) were diagnosed with cancer in 2018. There are also more than 429,000 survivors of childhood and adolescents cancer living in the United States. Wozny says parents of a cancer fighter often request the H.O.P.E. presentations, but anyone can do so.
“Our world needs so much more empathy,” she says. “It’s an amazing program … and our feedback has been tremendous, so we’re very, very proud of it.”
H.O.P.E. school visits
To schedule a H.O.P.E. presentation, contact Sharon Wozny at Children’s Cancer Network: 480-398-1564. The 30- to 50-minute classroom talk or school assembly presentations are age-appropriate and free to schools. Children’s Cancer Network also hosts its 9th annual Run to Fight Children’s Cancer (a fundraiser supporting programs like H.O.P.E) on Saturday, March 16. Learn more at runtofightcancer.com and childrenscancernetwork.org