NHS Backs Mums’ Flashcard Idea to Help Families Talk About Cancer
The NHS is working with two mums who had breast cancer and have combined their skills as an NHS nurse and an arts teacher to create colourful “flashcards” to help families talk about cancer.
Nicola Owen and Jennifer Pope, both now living with secondary cancers, devised the bright set of cards which include games to help children understand what it means to have a cancer patient in the family, and to explain some of the words relating to cancer treatments.
The East of England Cancer Alliances are working with the two women to develop the packs further.
Both in their early 30s, the two met at an event for breast cancer patients last year and following their own treatments realised there were few resources to help their children, aged between three and nine, talk about cancer.
The pair designed and commissioned the set of flashcards to help other parents start difficult conversations about cancer with their children.
Nicola Owen, an NHS nurse, said: “When we looked around there was nothing to help us talk with our children about everyday cancer words and things they might see in hospital.
“We wanted our children to grown up sound in the knowledge that they had been included in family conversations about cancer and to take away some of the fear, allowing them to feel they had been included.”
Jennifer Pope, a design teacher, said: “All we could find were grey, dismal books. We wanted something bright and cheerful that they would want to pick up and play with, as well as prompting any questions they might have.”
Dame Cally Palmer, national director of cancer for the NHS in England, said: “This brilliant initiative helps to break the stigma and confusion that can come with a cancer diagnosis and I am delighted that the NHS is helping to further develop it.
“NHS staff know just how crucial the support and understanding of families is to cancer patients and this idea has the potential to encourage younger people to get help early if they find a worrying symptom - people should not feel ashamed to come forward to the NHS for help.”
The cards were professionally produced and proved so popular with friends and other patients that the two set up The Little C Club to make them widely available and to help support other families.
Consultant oncologist Professor Peter Hoskin, East of England Cancer Alliance (South) Clinical Director, said: "We are truly impressed with the potential for these cards to help people of all ages to open up difficult discussions about cancer and to understand some of the complex words we use daily to talk about treatments and conditions.
"I believe that there is enormous potential to expand the concept into other areas of NHS care and we look forward to working further with these talented pioneers."
The cards explain different types of cancer and words like ‘consultant’, ‘oncologist’, ‘surgeon’, and ‘chemotherapy’ and are aimed at children aged between three and ten.
Nicola and Jennifer are keen to ensure that the flashcards are made available to hospitals and charities, and are now aiming to expand the range following widespread support and feedback from other parents.
Laura Woods, from Suffolk, says she would have found the Little C Club flashcards a huge help in talking to her own daughter when she was treated for cervical cancer at the age of 30.
Laura, who works as a manager for Norfolk-based cancer charity Big C, said: “The flashcards work like magic in de-mystifying cancer, and people of all ages enjoy looking at them.
“Cancer in the family can be hard to talk about. These bright, colourful flashcards break down barriers to difficult words and conversations, while also being fun for children who can enjoy playing with them, whether or not they have questions about cancer.”
Laura recently showcased the Little C Club flashcards at a meeting of the East of England Cancer Alliance’s Patient Advisory Board.
Ray Anderson, who co-chairs the Patient Advisory Board, said: “It was wonderful to see such a great innovation to help families talk about cancer. We are keen to develop this brilliant initiative across the East of England and more widely.”
The Little C Club Flashcards were launched at Maggie's Centre, Addenbrooke's on 3rd July 2021, further information can be found here.