A special club helps kids touched by cancer



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Posted on December 6, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 6 at 10:34 AM

The boys and girls sat in a circle in the comfortable living room of Gilda's Club in Seattle. As they introduced themselves, they tossed a spool of yarn from one to the next.

"My name is Noah. I'm ten years old, my mom has cancer, and if I had any superpower it would be to be invisible," began the first boy.

"My name is Sami, and I'm five, and my dad has cancer," chimed in the boy on his left.

When you're just a child, and the hardest thing in life is already happening, it is good to be around others who understand.

Social worker Michelle Massey, who heads the weekly group called "Small Talk", held up her section of the yarn which by now formed a web interlocking the group.

"This shows how we are all connected and how we support each other," Massey told them.

For their next activity the kids busied themselves at two art tables. When you're young, and trying to understand how you feel, drawing helps.

"Scared is right here," said seven year old Elliott pointing to an image on his paper.

For these kids, whose lives are touched by cancer, the free weekly art group is a safe place to explore feelings.

"It doesn't matter if you're five or twelve, they all are scared, or they all are angry. And they can process those emotions differently through art," Massey explained.

She guided the conversation at a table of older children as they completed their artwork.

"All my friends have parents with no cancer," said ten year old Brian Rittierodt. "How does that make you feel?" asked Massey. "It makes me feel a little upset," replied the boy.

"At school, they're the only ones who deal with it, so nobody really understands about it. Whereas the kids here understand about it," explained Paul Rittierodt, Brian and Noah's father.

Rittierodt found Gilda's Club after his wife developed cancer more than two years ago. He calls it the kids' club house. The non profit was named in honor of Gilda Radner. The comedian, best remembered for her performances on Saturday Night Live, died of ovarian cancer.    

"What were you feeling when your mom came home?" Massey asked eleven year old Ella at the art table. "I was happy she was coming home, but I was scared if she was gonna be ok," replied the girl.

Since last May, Ella and Elliott's mother Susie Tennant has been battling ovarian cancer.

"It was one two three bam. I was in the hospital, having surgery and getting chemo. It was like a bomb went off in our family," Tennant recalled.

The family comes here to Gilda's Club to put the fragments back together.

"As an adult, I know that we all are born, and we all die, but the hardest part for me was worrying about my kids," Tennant said.

It helps her to surround her two children with the support they find at the club.

"My daughter who's eleven, has been able to say to me "Mom, I don't want you to die. I don't want you to leave me," she said.

Here they can gain strength to face an uncertain future.

"God wants her to have cancer 'cause it feels like she needs to go to heaven," Brian Rittierodt shared his thoughts of why God allowed his mother's struggle with the disease.

Twelve year old Kiera on the opposite side of the table, helped him work through his worry.

"You just have to believe that they're going to get better, because if you let hope go, it's not going to come back," she offered.
During "Small Talk" art group Massey tries to remind the children of the most important feeling of all.

"Everybody feel loved? Ok, loved. That's why we go LOVE! Good job guys," she praised as they raised hands in a cheer.
Gilda's Club relies on grants and donations to bring free services to families touched by cancer. The "Small Talk" art program is for children 5 through 12. There are programs for older kids and adults too.