Anita Lichman and her sons Jacob Lichman-Paul, 9, and Max Lichman-Paul, 7, wrote the book “Making Room for Cancer” to help children cope when a parent who has cancer. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

When Anita Lichman of Arrowsic was diagnosed with breast cancer in August of last year, she was immediately flooded with a range of emotions.

“I was shocked and scared – terrified. I really didn’t know what to do,” Lichman said. “In the beginning … I was thinking, how am I going to tell my children?”

Now, Lichman, in remission with a year of treatment behind her, is committed to helping other families navigate a parent’s cancer diagnosis. Along with her two sons Jacob and Max Lichman-Paul, she published a book this month called “Making Room for Cancer.”

After visiting a library in search of books that would help children understand their parent’s cancer diagnosis, Lichman found that most books available were simpler picture books geared toward young children.

“They did not answer (specific questions) or give words for things that older, maybe curious children would want to know,” Lichman said. “That led me to talk really openly with the kids and constantly be asking them about what their experience was like … we thought maybe we could make a book.”

The Lichmans plan to donate “Making Room for Cancer” to treatment centers in the hopes that it can help other families who need it. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“Making Room for Cancer” opens with two letters, one from Lichman and one from her husband about their experiences with Lichman’s diagnosis.

“Cancer changes everything,” Steven Paul, Lichman’s husband, writes in the beginning of the book. “Somethings you see coming, others you don’t … We see life through a different lens now.”

The book continues with both Jacob and Max Lichman-Paul’s accounts of their mother’s diagnosis.

“I was eight years old when I found out my mother had breast cancer. When I learned about the cancer I felt scared and I wanted to help my mother right away,” Jacob, now 9, wrote.

The book continues by weaving together quotes from Jacob and Max alongside their own illustrations and Lichman’s explanations of cancer in child-friendly terms alongside photographs from her experience.

The book also explains cancer-related terms whose definitions may otherwise be inaccessible for kids. “Radiation uses rays that kill the remaining cancer cells. Sometimes people feel tired and get a burn from radiation,” the book says.

“The book makes me feel sad in a way and happy that we’re helping other families,” Jacob said.

The book’s firsthand, honest and detailed account of a family’s experience with cancer is not commonly found in books on the topic, said Patti Sands, psycho-social services coordinator and counselor at the Dempsey Center in South Portland.

“The books that I have seen written have been for littler kids and put cancer more broadly, but (this book) goes into specific questions and answers,” Sands said. “What I love about Anita’s book is that it’s really told through the words of a child and for children. It hits the pre-tween age.”

Sands hopes to put copies of the book in the Dempsey Center libraries in both Lewiston and South Portland in order to provide other families with a new tool to demystify cancer by answering specific questions from the point of view of a child.

“I haven’t seen any books like this … I think what’s different about it is that (Lichman) involved her kids in the writing process,” said Eleni Nackos, an oncologist with New England Cancer Specialists. “The book reviews going through a cancer diagnosis through the eyes of children and using the language of kids and their experience, and I think it’s going to be a really great tool.”

For Lichman’s sons, the writing process not only helped them process their mother’s illness, but also provided hope. “It’s important (for other kids to read the book) so they know they’re not alone,” Max Lichman-Paul, 7, said.

“Making Room for Cancer” is self-published and available for purchase on Amazon.com, though the family mainly plans to distribute the book by donating it to cancer centers in hopes of sharing their story with other families facing a parent’s cancer diagnosis.

“We just hope that it becomes part of their resources that they can share with families,” Lichman said. “That’s part of our family mission, getting this book out there and making sure it gets in the hands of people who really need it.”

So far, Lichman has donated books to the Dana-Farber Resource Center in Boston, The Dempsey Center and local libraries.

“When you go through cancer, you come out and you feel like you’ve been through a wind tunnel. I feel like I’ve been in a wind tunnel, and I’m not exactly sure what happened, but I just got spit out, and now I’m trying to get my footing again,” Lichman said. “(Writing the book) as a family took something really tragic and gave us something to push us forward.”

“Making Room of Cancer” concludes with a list of tips from Jacob and Max about how to navigate a parent’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, and words of advice from the family: “We really want you to know you are not alone and that other families have a parent with cancer too.”


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