Art and Writing Project: When Mom or Dad Has Cancer

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Art helps kids express feelings. For many children, it’s easier to draw an emotion than label it and talk about it. Certainly this is true for young children who may not know the feelings words yet.

In fact, art therapy is used for grief, loss, learning disabilities, emotional issues, mental disorders, abuse, cancer, and divorce, among other ways.

I’m not an art therapist but when my friend’s husband was diagnosed with cancer and had 2 kids under age 5, I decided to try to use writing and art to help them deal with their feelings. The kids wouldn’t understand the particulars of cancer, or the books I found about cancer, because they were so young.

As a result, I wrote a story about a panda bear named Kai whose dad had cancer – thinking of all the ways I could incorporate the boys’ frustrations and new situation into the story. Then, I had the four-year-old help me illustrate it.

Fiction is hard! My story is only sort of decent because two of my dear fiction-writing friends gave me some very kind feedback (how hard it must have been!) to make it less awful!! Thank you  P.K. Hallinan and Suzanne Santillan. You are so talented and had your hands full. 🙂

I’m making the story available to you to use with a child who has a parent with cancer for your use only – don’t republish it or sell it please, it’s just for your own use.

Panda’s Dad Gets Sick Printable .doc OR Printable  .pdf

Look what my friend’s son drew. Do you think he expressed his feelings?

Learn more about art therapy for kids with these resources:


Art Therapy Sourcebook
The Creativity Handbook: A Visual Arts Guide for Parents and Teachers
Art Therapy Exercises
Books for Kids on Loss, Grief, and Death


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  1. I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer last year – I had a 9 mth old and a 2.5 year old at the time. Breast Cancer Care gave me a book for young children – but TBH it was too complicated. I wish I had read this a year ago as I think it would have helped my older child.
    What a lovely post to include and think of.

  2. Sherry Abbot, Executive Director of the CCTFA Foundation, who often contributes to co-wrote a book on the power of creativity in healing. The art and stories in this post remind me of her book, Cancer and the Art of Healing. Art therapy is a fantastic outlet for both children and adults. 🙂

  3. What an inspiring story from such a difficult time in your life, which you handled extremely well with your children. Thank you so much for sharing! Carolyn