University of Calgary

Nursing researcher discovers the healing power of kids’ cancer camps

UToday HomeMarch 7, 2013

Catherine Laing, a doctoral student, and Nancy Moules a professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary. Laing wanted to understand the meaning of children’s cancer camps for the patient and family. Photo by Riley BrandtCatherine Laing, a doctoral student, and Nancy Moules a professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary. Laing wanted to understand the meaning of children’s cancer camps for the patient and family. Photo by Riley BrandtChildren’s cancer camps need to be considered a necessity versus a luxury, according to recent research by a Faculty of Nursing doctoral student — and perhaps should even be thought of as a psychosocial intervention for some.

Catherine Laing, RN, MN, and former patient care manager of Alberta Children’s Hospital oncology unit, researched Alberta kids’ cancer camps as part of her doctoral thesis.

Cancer camps started in the 1970s as a way for families to escape the rigidity and severity of cancer treatment. “I wanted to understand the meaning of children’s cancer camps for the child with cancer and the family,” says Laing.

“For most families, camp is a good thing — I wanted to find out why. It’s not just camp for most who experience it.”

“Catherine's work demonstrates that cancer camps are much more than just a luxury; they make a deep and complex difference in the lives of children and families experiencing childhood cancer," says Nancy Moules, RN, PhD and holder of the ACHF/ACHRI Nursing Professorship in Child and Family Centred Cancer Care.

Under the supervision of Moules, Laing interviewed six childhood cancer families and five cancer camp counselors and discovered camp means different things to different families.

“There is a lot at play in the cancer camp experience: finding acceptance and fit, grief as something to live with versus something to ‘get over,’ storytelling as a means of re-shaping and understanding traumatic experiences and the solidarity of the community as one that creates intense, healing bonds,” she explains.

Cancer camps are designed to meet the needs of the whole family at each stage in the cancer experience — from diagnosis through treatment, to survival or bereavement.

In 2008, eight camps across Canada provided specialized oncology retreats and community support programs to over 5,000 children and their families — a 10-per-cent increase from the previous three years.

“As more children are surviving childhood cancer, the need for specialized camps and community programs will continue to grow,” Laing says. “We need to remove some of the barriers — like access to funding for example — so that more kids and their families can have this experience.”

Laing’s doctoral work was funded by the Alberta Children's Hospital Foundation.

 

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