The Johnson Family
Memorial day weekend means spending time outside with family and friends, barbecue, and kids enjoying school’s end and summer’s arrival. Over this weekend in 2009, the Johnson family began their journey with cancer. Parents Krystin and Chris moved to Austin from Shreveport, Louisiana with their daughter Julia just eight months prior to the life-altering diagnosis that started off their summer.
How do you explain this to a 5-year old?
Krystin was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. “How do you explain this to a 5-year old? What language do you use? You want to be honest about all the changes about to take place, which for me involved things like losing my hair, feeling really tired, and going through surgeries that left drains hanging out of my body. My first instinct was to protect Julia, to make her feel supported and let her know it was going to be ok. Wonders & Worries was the first call we made after we figured out our plan for my treatment.”
There is a lot of trust that goes into the commitment to put your child in someone’s care, especially in trusting them with something as sensitive as an illness that is having a dramatic impact on your family. As a family raising an only child, the Johnsons didn’t know what to expect, what was normal for a 5-year old and what behavior problems are common during that age versus what behavior problems were directly related to coping with Krystin’s illness.
After Krystin finished her treatment and Julia finished her 6-week comprehensive coping and illness education curriculum with Wonders & Worries, the Johnson family tried to put cancer behind them. Years later, the Johnsons were devastated to learn that Krystin’s cancer had returned. In November 2012, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that showed up in her lungs and lymph nodes.
My first instinct was to protect Julia, to make her feel supported and let her know it was going to be ok.
By this time, Julia was in the 3rd grade and found great support in her school counselor at Trinity Episcopal School, though Krystin and Chris wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page. Certified Child Life Specialist and Wonders & Worries Program Director, Kim Fryar—who remains Julia’s staff liaison throughout her experience with Wonders & Worries—met collectively with Chris, Krystin, and the school counselor. This meeting brought to light the level of expertise Wonders & Worries provides. “We have the resources to put Julia in traditional therapy, but what really stands out to Chris and me was seeing how a trained, professional counselor’s experience with our situation was limited or non-existent and how Kim was able to teach Julia’s school counselor about the needs of children facing serious parental illness. You know your business and do it well.”
Chris described that Wonders & Worries has been their greatest asset as a family throughout this whole journey. “It really put our minds at ease having a backstop of somebody with knowledge, skill, and a base of understanding that was so far outside anything we could’ve ever put our hands on. You can’t find this level of knowledge on the internet, nor anywhere for that matter. Access to that is immeasurable, a Godsend.”
You’re the Mary Poppins of therapy.
Julia transitioned out of the 6-week individual sessions in 2013 and now attends monthly group sessions. “Sometimes I like to keep my mom’s cancer private and that was more difficult [in group] because there was a lot of people.” She described how she got over her intimidation at that first group meeting, which entailed a pet therapy session, and now loves going to the group activities because she maintains friendships with other kids who know exactly what she is going through.
“You’re the Mary Poppins of therapy,” adds Krystin, “I can’t think of any other way to describe how unique Wonders & Worries services are.”