"You have cancer" are three of the most disheartening words to hear. Explaining the disease to a child is nearly as difficult.
But a new program at the Tri-Cities Cancer Center in Kennewick can ease the task.
Bonnie Oneonta-Becraft, a cancer center chaplain, launched Kids Konnection this spring to help children whose lives have been touched by cancer -- whether it's a parent, a grandparent or other loved one.
"It gives them an opportunity to talk within a group of peers having similar experiences," said Oneonta-Becraft, 60. "In school, their peers can't relate at the same level, so this provides a support process for them."
She researched similar programs across the nation for about a year before launching Kids Konnection in April.
The free program runs about 90 minutes every Monday evening for six weeks, and the second session recently began. The program targets children ages 7 to 12 and has about 10 participants.
During the sessions, children learn what cancer is, how it develops and how it affects family members.
"It is a process of building from week to week," she said. "As each week goes by, they get more comfortable with each other, with more openness, trust and comfort with each other, as well as facilitators and volunteers."
So far, Kids Konnection is working.
"Parents are seeing a difference at home," she said. "They have commented on how much easier it is to talk together about cancer because they have a common lan-guage."
Josh Pearson of Kennewick, who is battling brain cancer, said his young children have gotten a lot from attending Kids Connection.
"It's a good program for our kids," he said. "It helps them relate to someone who is going through cancer treatments so they have a better understanding."
Oneonta-Becraft, who has been with Tri-Cities Chaplaincy for three years, including the last 18 months at the cancer center, normally works with adults. She meets with 50 to 60 patients each day to offer counseling, answer questions and provide literature.
Prior to launching Kids Konnection, she met with children only when they accompanied family members. She hopes this new focus will help children cope with how cancer affects family members.
"When we got to the last session, the children said they wished it wasn't over," she said. "That has been gratifying."
To learn more about Kids Konnection, call Oneonta-Becraft at 737-3436.
w Andy Perdue: 582-1405; firstname.lastname@example.org. The lavender ribbon we are using in this series represents awareness of all cancers.