A recent American Cancer Society study on parental cancer brought much needed awareness of a large, underserved populationparents facing a cancer diagnosis while raising young children. An estimated 18.3% of adults recently diagnosed with cancer have minor children in their householdpotentially affecting approximately 2.85 million US children younger than 18 years of age.

According to the study, few programs now exist to meet the special needs of this population. Fortunately, one of those few is right here in the Twin Cities. Angel Foundation’s Facing Cancer Together (FaCT) program gives families with young children and teens facing a parental cancer diagnosis the skills thrive through the crisis and beyond.

This free program is the only one in Minnesota that works not only with patients but with whole families regardless of the type of cancer or stage of the disease. In 2009, Minnesotans with nearly 90 different types of cancer and coming from a wide array of racial, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds participated in our programs.

We provide accurate, developmentally appropriate information about all aspects of cancer and its effects on the family to help children, teens and their parents meet and manage the challenge of a parental cancer diagnosis. Both adults and children spend time with peers going through the same experiences and learn that they are not alone. We also sponsor special opportunities for families to focus on simply having fun together by attending a sporting event, or spending a day at an amusement park.

The distress of a parental cancer diagnosis on a family can be far reaching. Research suggests that children who have a parent with cancer may experience heightened levels of anxiety and depression and decreased social and academic achievement. FaCT gives children the tools they need to concentrate on school and life, while addressing parents’ worries about how their family is functioning and allowing them to focus more energy on healing. The crucial knowledge and support gained through this program makes dealing with cancer a strengthening experience rather than a destructive one.