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Local teen's account of family cancer is added to Oaklawn's oncology library

Local children facing the prospect of cancer within their families can receive some uplifting guidance from someone just like them – a young woman whose family has faced the same struggle.

But Julia Hope doesn’t pull any punches.

“It teaches them that it’s hard,” she said.

Julia, 13, is the daughter of Mark and Shelly Hope of Marshall, and is the author of “Hoping: The true story of my mother’s battle against cancer,” which won first place in the “best overall book” category when Julia was a fifth-grader.

The 11-page story – illustrated with 16 photographs – appears in the 2010 “Children’s Literature Project” volume published by Miller College in Battle Creek.

A booklet featuring Julia’s story recently was added to the collection of children’s books in the oncology library at Oaklawn Hospital, said Deanna Bitner, director of Oaklawn’s Oncology/Hematology Clinic.

“We wanted Julia’s story to be accessible to our younger visitors, so they can read her words and learn a little more about the experience,” Bitner said.

The hospital’s oncology library comprises about 50 volumes, and the book containing Julia’s story is unique among them.

“We did an extensive literature search when we built our oncology library and it was very difficult to find books written by children for children,” said Sherri Seifert, Oaklawn’s case management team leader. “That’s what’s unique about this.”

At the time the account was written, Julia was a student of teacher Mary Douglass at Gordon Elementary School. Today, she is an eighth-grade student at Marshall Middle School.

Julia’s story reflects on cancer’s impact, and was written after her mother, Shelly Hope, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. Shelly Hope received a series of treatments that led to a four-year period of remission.

“There’s not much that you can say about cancer that is positive,” Julia wrote in her story, adding that “the day-to-day worry and stress of cancer is exhausting and it can take a lot out of a person.”

However, that struggle can be met with persistence and optimism, she observed in relating how she and her family helped during her mother’s recovery process.

“We all pitched in to make my mom feel better,” she wrote. “We did things like bringing her food, getting water, or making sure my younger sister did not get into trouble. We all had to be hopeful in order to make her better. Being positive and optimistic made all of us feel better.

“Our family’s last name is ‘Hope,’ and somehow that has been helpful to me. I stand for hope, not only because it is my last name, but when I am feeling sad, it helps me get through.”

“I was very proud of her and happy to see that she could express herself during that time,” Shelly Hope said of her daughter and her story. “I hope a child reading it will be able to talk to their parents during that time and be able to voice whether they’re sad or angry.

“Often all the attention is focused on the parents, and we have to remember that the kids are going through it, too,” she said.

Bitner said the information in the oncology library – and Julia’s story particularly – is useful to children and grandchildren of Oaklawn’s patients going through difficult times.

“This could be very useful to help explain what chemotherapy is, to explain the disease process and overall to help understand what the patient is going through,” Bitner said. “Most people are afraid of the unknown, and if we can have some education, perhaps we can lessen the fear a little – and walk through the journey with them.”

Julia said she feels honored that her work was chosen for the clinic’s library.

“I like writing in general,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind being a writer when I get older.”

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