Shane Spears

Date of Award


Degree Name



Graduate School of Professional Psychology

First Advisor

Laura Meyer

First Committee Member

John McNeill

Second Committee Member

Lorraine Hart


Parental cancer; children; grief support; exemplar program


Cancer in a parent or caregiver is an event that affects the whole family. The roles and responsibilities of the diagnosed parent, as well as those of each family member, are affected at the time of diagnosis and throughout the progression of the illness. According to the American Cancer Society, there will be an estimated 1,665,540 new cancer cases diagnosed and 585,720 cancer deaths in 2014. This staggering statistic means there are a number of cancer diagnoses that will directly affect thousands of parents and their children. Past research suggests this upheaval in the system is particularly stressful on children and can lead to a number of responses including anxiety, depression, distress, and other negative reactions. Despite the large number of parents and caregivers diagnosed with cancer in the United States each year, there are relatively few support groups aimed at supporting children affected by parental cancer. Support groups provide opportunities to serve this population in a number of advantageous ways by providing safety, support, and a sense of community. Additionally, support groups allow this population of young people to express their fears and worries, connect to others going through similar circumstances, and explore their parent's diagnosis in a context that is helpful and developmentally appropriate. Past research has found that children who do not receive support during this life-changing event can be negatively affected throughout the life span. On the other hand, this event can be a time to build a child's resilience and provide the structure through which they may thrive in adversity. Support groups offer the opportunity to address this difficult event and lead to positive results. Kids Alive! is one such group that has been proactive in support for children of parents diagnosed with cancer since 1995. Kids Alive!, a support group that runs out of Porter Hospital in Denver Colorado, uses Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey to structure monthly groups. The Hero's Journey, described in Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), focuses on a set pattern that all heroes must go through during their journey towards an ultimate victory and self-discovery. Kids Alive! incorporates this journey into a curriculum aimed at helping children explore their thoughts and feelings around their parent's cancer and leads to a realization that they are not alone on this journey. Over the course of eight months, children in Kids Alive! receive support and solidarity that leads to life-changing experiences and an understanding of what a diagnosis of cancer in a parent can mean. Kids Alive! consists of professionals and volunteers who take time to recognize and support this underserved population. The program has led to positive outcomes for nearly two decades and consistently increases the numbers of children and families served. The purpose of this paper is to describe the Kids Alive! program as an exemplar program that addresses these problems by utilizing protective factors research has found in this population. Further, this paper will discuss areas of future research while providing the model of an effective program aimed at serving an important population. Additionally, the model of Kids Alive! will be described through this paper in a way that allows for other oncology settings to consider this relatively simple program that provides consistently positive results.


27 pages

Included in

Psychology Commons