When a child is diagnosed with cancer it can be devastating, not only for him/her and their family, but their friends at school.
One program is hoping to make the diagnosis easier to understand for even the youngest members of society, and it involves a monkey.
“Some days I might not feel well enough to be a school so i’ll send my monkey. I hope that’s cool,” said Colin Carr as he read aloud to Mrs. Shrum’s class at Aiken Elementary School in Ontario. "I want you to know that when you come to school and don’t see me there, don’t be surprised if you see a monkey in my chair.”
A monkey is currently sitting in for one of the students, Gabriel, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.
“This program is going to help Gabriel feel like he is still in school with you guys and nobody has taken his chair or his desk right cause you guys all like your own desk,” said Carr.
Gabriel is undergoing treatment at St. Luke’s and will likely be gone for months.
A team from the hospital brought in a stuffed monkey along with educational tools to teach Gabriel’s classmates what is going on and answer any questions they might have about cancer.
“We just want them to understand exactly what is happening,” said Carr.
While Gabriel is away they can write him letters or notes of encouragement and stick them in the monkey’s backpack which will eventually make it’s way back to Gabriel.
"Just knowing that he can write to them and let them know what is going on with him and that they can say hey we miss you, wish you were here, this is what we are doing, it just keeps everybody connected and feeling together,” explained Carr.
When he is finally able to come back, he probably won’t look or act exactly the same as they might remember, but by educating the kids in his classroom, they hope it will make the transition more understandable for everyone.
“It just makes it a lot easier for the child to come back when their peers know what he’s been through,” said Carr.
Gabriel was also given a small monkey so that when he looks at it, it can serve as a reminder that a monkey is currently in his chair.
“I am sure it encourages him knowing that eventually he will be able to come back and take the monkey’s spot and the monkey can just be in his own chair and Gabriel can have his chair back,” said Carr.