Siteman HUGS program helps children cope with loved ones touched by cancer

When dealing with life-threatening diseases such as cancer, complete care sometimes extends to other members of the family. That’s the idea behind the Help Us Give Support (HUGS) program at Siteman Cancer Center. HUGS members, children between the ages of 4 and 12, recently took part in an Arts as Healing event to create decorative scarves for their mother or grandmother fighting breast cancer. Read more from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Scarf project for cancer victims unites families

(Republished with permission from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This article originally ran in the Suburban Journals on Wednesday, March 30, 2005)

By Julie Randle
Of the Suburban Journals
Oakville-Mehlville Journal

Sam, Dylan and Ashley Mopkins show the scarves they made for their mom.
(From left) Sam, Dylan and Ashley Mopkins show the scarves they made for their mom.

Children outfitted in operating room hats, gloves, goggles and shoe covers played the part of fashion designers as they created colorful headgear for breast cancer survivors and patients.

Members of Help Us Give Support (H.U.G.S) — a Siteman Cancer Center program for children ages 4 to 12 that helps them cope with a breast cancer diagnosis in their mother or grandmother — created, designed and personalized scarves for their mothers and grandmothers, all of whom have been touched by the disease.

Three Mopkins children – Sam, 9, Ashley, 8, and Dylan, 6, — along with 10 other children gathered in a circle and began blowing bubbles onto light beige scarves. The bottles of bubbles contained India ink, so when the bubbles landed and splattered they littered a gray color on the hand-sewn squares.

Next, the children tied knots in their scarf and then painted each knot with fabric dyes. There was a rainbow of colors to chose from, including hot pink, yellow, blue, orange and green.

After the painting was done each scarf was untied and blown dry with a hairdryer. The children added the final touch, a personal message was written using a magic marker.

When finished the Mopkins children presented their creations to their mother, April Villars, 33, a breast cancer survivor.

“They were beautiful,” said Villars of the Tower Grove South neighborhood. “It was made more special because it came from them and it was something they made themselves.”

The scarf project was the brainchild of Vicki Friedman, director of Medical Photography, Illustration and Computer Graphics at Washington University School of Medicine, and her colleagues.

Friedman, a breast cancer survivor of 19 years, and her five colleagues all collaborated on the scarf idea and project. Many cancer patients may lose their hair as a result of chemotherapy, so a scarf is very useful, Friedman said.

“Personally, if you touch one child’s life it’s huge,” Friedman said. “It’s a very passionate feeling. If you can help one child then we’ve accomplished a lot.”

The scarf workshop was part of Arts as Healing — an ongoing Siteman Cancer Center art therapy program that helps children and adults deal with cancer.

“We wanted to develop artistic projects for kids that encouraged both team spirit and personal self expression as part of the healing process,” Friedman said. “Our office creates art for the School of Medicine from a scientific and research perspective, but this program gives us a wonderful opportunity to reach out to the community and touch patients’ lives.”

Villars learned about H.U.G.S. through the Barnard Health and Cancer Information Center at Siteman Cancer

Center. She enrolled her children Sam, Ashley, Dylan and as Terrel Prater in the program.

“I thought it would be a good way for us all to connect and have some normalcy again,” said Villars, who is working on earning a degree in social work degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “This is such a wonderful outlet for my children to do something fun together as a family. And most importantly, it allows all of us to be a part of the healing process.”

Copyright 2005 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.