United in Pink camp helps families cope with breast cancer

United in Pink camp helps families cope with breast cancer

lfabian@macon.comJune 12, 2013 

Zaulina Pitts was just 6 years old when she learned her mother had breast cancer.

“I didn’t know what she was talking about until I saw my brother and sister crying,” said Zaulina, who is now 10.

The Macon girl was busy preparing a collage of herself Wednesday morning at the Kids in Pink camp for children who have been touched by the disease that threatened her mother’s life. “It scared me.”

Pauline Pitts has seen a dramatic improvement in her daughter’s outlook since she got involved in United in Pink. It’s a nonprofit organization that sponsors the camp and other activities for those battling breast cancer, as well as their spouses and children.

“She understands it better,” Pitts said. “How I feel, how she feels. It was awesome.”

Pitts now volunteers at the camp, which is being held this week at Forest Hills United Methodist Church for ages 4 to 18.

“I thought it was important for my kids to be around other kids,” Pitts said.

Spenser Daughdrill attended the camp for two years after his mother was diagnosed. He’s back this summer volunteering before he heads to the University of Georgia in August.

“I love working with kids,” said the 18-year-old, who dressed like a doctor Tuesday to help the youngsters cope with their fears.

A couple of the children were in tears during one of the sessions.

Once they got to play with a stethoscope, squirt paint out of needleless syringes and smear it around with tongue depressors, the atmosphere changed.

“One of the kids was scared of the doctors when we came in there, but by the end he was asking for more shots,” Daughdrill said.

Marriage and family therapist Bowden Templeton said it is psychologically healthy for boys and girls to try on lab coats and scrubs.

“It is intended to be an opportunity for them to experience going to the doctor in a different way,” Templeton said.

While sitting down with them on comfy beanbag chairs and cushions, he helped debunk some of their worrisome myths about breast cancer.

For example, some fear they can catch it from the patient.

“Help them know that’s not how that works,” Templeton said.

The children can ask questions and learn from others who have had similar experiences.

On the first day of camp, Laura Paxton, United in Pink’s executive director, donned blinking glasses and danced up the hall to Sister Sledge’s “We are Family.”

“Our mission is to develop relationships with these families,” Paxton said. “I want to know who you are, what your family looks like and customize services for your family.”

Besides the yearly camp, the organization that incorporated more than five years ago holds monthly workshops on a variety of topics, such as the latest radiation therapy or makeup and health tips.

Patients are paired with survivors who have had a similar diagnosis, and counseling is available for the whole family.

Healing retreats take the women to the beach in the summer and the mountains in the fall.

United in Pink’s Bunko for Breast Cancer and other fundraisers combine with private donations to fund all of the programs at no cost to the families.

Breast cancer can be particularly devastating due to the physical changes that often happen to a woman’s body and the emotional scars that can run deep after a mastectomy, Paxton said.

Retired television executive Dodie Cantrell-Bickley said the care and concern for the whole family prompted her to join United in Pink’s board of directors.

It can be as simple as arranging for someone to pick up the kids at school, get them to their baseball game or find help with housework.

“It’s not just about the mom can’t get up to make supper,” she said. “It’s the fear. How does a child deal with that and develop peace?”

Just knowing there is someone available to help with child care is a big relief to mothers, Paxton said.

On Wednesday, the children also learned about healthy habits for themselves.

“You should aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity each day,” 14-year-old volunteer Anna Claire Stietenroth told the youngsters.

“You’ve got to exercise so your body will grow,” said survivor Virginia Cowsert, who has volunteered at all five Kids in Pink camps.

Pitts, who lost her husband in a car accident when Zaulina was just a baby, found a brochure in her doctor’s office about United in Pink.

Since then, her family has benefited greatly and participates in all the programs offered.

Not only has Zaulina learned all about breast cancer and its treatment, she realizes she can share her feelings and concerns.

“It helped me know more people and to be myself.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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