Effort will help kids deal with stress of ill parents

When Ginny Auer's husband, Troy Hemmerling, was diagnosed with a deadly form of cancer on Nov. 9, 2009, life shifted dramatically for Hemmerling, Auer and their 5-year-old daughter, Tess.

Now, even as she continues to support her husband's journey, Auer wants to help other families — and children such as Tess — who are dealing with cancer.

She and two local therapists are organizing a local branch of Kids Konnected — a national organization founded on the premise that when a parent gets cancer, the entire family is affected, especially the children.

"My hope is we reach any child or family who is dealing with this," said Auer. "My focus is on getting my husband well and getting my child what she needs."

Months of treatments have slid into years. And Auer continues to support her husband's battle with this rare and aggressive form of cancer. She also continues to keep an open and age-appropriate dialog going with the now 6-year-old Tess.

They have read special books that deal with the topic of a parent having cancer. They have discussed what it means when daddy loses his hair. They have even discussed the question, "Is daddy going to die?" Auer said.

But even though Auer's communication is good with her emotionally articulate daughter, Auer knows Tess may need to talk with someone else safe about her feelings, and to realize other kids are going through the same challenges. And so she started looking in the community for therapeutic support.

Auer knew a little about Kids Konnected, and she allied herself with therapists Chelsea Davis and Kate Caldwell. Together the trio have started a new branch of the national organization.

Children get very worried when their parents are sick. Sometimes they don't know if it's alright to ask questions. Sometimes they don't know what to ask. In many cases, kids will often "imagine things that are worse than reality," said Caldwell.

Meanwhile, parents worry about what information is appropriate to share, on top of trying to keep hearth, home and their own health together, she said.

Kids Konnected can help both parents and children by providing a safe place for everyone to discuss their fears and worries.

"The whole idea is to help the parent help the child," Caldwell said. "Right now we've got enough kids for (one) group (for younger children). The hope is that the program will keep going and expanding to include older kids."

Auer agrees not all parents are comfortable discussing tough topics with their children.

"Some parents don't want to talk to their kids," Auer said. "But they really need to know and be brought in. They have antennae. They're aware."

Auer continues to help Hemmerling fight his cancer. As she does so, she hopes the Kids Konnected group can help Tess.

"I hope that she gets support, and that she gets a sense that she's not alone," said Auer.

The first of the free, twice-monthly, therapeutic workshops is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 1, and will serve a group of seven children ages 4 to 8 years old, said Caldwell.

For more information, call Caldwell at 541-857-1201 or Davis at 541-779-2390. Or visit www.kidskonnected.org.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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