Q & A with the Author of The Together Stories

Following the diagnosis of her daughter, Trish Dearn wrote The Together Stories series to assist young children through their cancer treatment journey, as well as adapting to life after cancer.

What was your motivation for writing The Together Stories?

When Charlotte was diagnosed with leukaemia at age two we were offered one book that was too old for her. I tried to find other resources, but could not locate any books that were age appropriate or relevant. I used to tell Charlotte stories in hospital and one day, I was sitting by her bed as she was sleeping and thought it might be good to write them down. That’s how it started.

What themes and topics do the books cover?

The books cover most of the main things that we found challenging as a family: explaining hair loss, noises in the night at hospital, missing pets, trying to go back to kinder/school, being brave and trying things at the park when you don't feel well or strong.

The series grew from a creative and therapeutic partnership. Why?

As a mum and a creative person as well as being a Music Therapist, writing these books helped me…to feel like me. To feel like I could do something useful and beautiful for my child during a terrible time. Collaborating with Dr Maria McCarthy from the Children’s Cancer Centre at The Royal Children’s Hospital , who had years of experience on the ward, helped to create something that would be widely relevant and therapeutically appropriate for lots of families, not just mine. I think health and creativity go hand in hand because creativity is essentially one of our strengths that we can tap into even when things are difficult. And when we do, it helps to ground us, find strength within ourselves and experience joy and connectedness. In turn, this helps us to face hardship.

How do The Together Stories help young children adapt to not only the physical and psychological changes associated with cancer treatment, but also life after cancer? 

We talked about end of treatment in one of the stories because while finishing treatment is joyous in one way, it brings with it a range of emotions which can be challenging for the whole family. For us it was a mixture of joy and fear and what would happen next. Also it felt like a loss to have been at hospital so much (we had over 56 admissions) and it was hard to explain to a little child why we wouldn't be seeing everyone. We also wrote about going back to school and feeling nervous and scared, but preparing the child with strategies that can help them through it.

A child’s cancer treatment journey is a very difficult and stressful time for the parents and family of the child. How do The Together Stories help families through this?

This series offers an opportunity for parents and children to talk about the issues and can help families to explain some of the processes without it being scary for the child. The feedback has been amazing and families really like being able to read the books with each of their children.

How did the books help you face the challenges of Charlotte’s cancer treatment and recovery? 

The books helped me because it gave me something to do which reminded me that I could still be creative even through the worst experience I'd ever had. Having a way to give something back was really important to me too and helped me to feel like I was making a contribution to the children's cancer community.

How is Charlotte doing now?

Charlotte is very well and is about to go into her second year of high school.

Which is your favourite book?

Charlotte: Charlie and Jackyboy is my favourite because it has my pets in it and is set in my house with the rainbow gate! It was very relatable because I really missed my dog when I was in hospital all the time.

Trish: Things That Make Me Feel Better is my favourite book. I have used it with some of the families that I work with as a Music Therapist, including children with generalised anxiety and autism, and they really like it. I can literally see it dawn on their faces when they realise that they can make a difference to how they feel by what they focus on and think about. 

Why did you include a blank book (My Story) in The Together Stories?

My Story offers the opportunity for the children and families to find their own creative voice by writing a story with or for their child. A lot of families have said they have kept their child’s My Story; I still have the Charlotte’s story about being a princess on an island all by herself and her friends couldn’t get there to play with her.

Why did you partner with the Children’s Cancer Foundation for this endeavour?

It was an obvious fit for us to do this together as the books are resources that families can have on the ward. I was thrilled to partner with the Children’s Cancer Foundation and grateful that they decided to support the project.

What would you share with families currently going through their cancer treatment journey?

It is such a personal journey for everyone. I used to feel like I was on the cancer island that Charlotte drew in her story. It can be an isolating and very difficult time but there are many people in the community who really care about what you are going through. If you need support, reach out.

What advice would you give relatives and friends of families going through this journey?

Don’t be afraid of this process. Stand beside us in the storm. Don’t ask what you can do, offer something instead. Don’t leave us on our own because you don’t know what to say. We don’t know either. We didn’t expect to be walking down this road. Just come and walk with us a while.

Find out more about The Together Stories.

Trish with her daughter, Charlotte