Children's book about cancer aims to help friends understand a complex disease
Host Amber Smith: Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York invites you to be The Informed Patient with the podcast that features experts from Central New York's only academic medical center. I'm your host, Amber Smith. Today, I'm speaking with Dr. Anne Bramlage. She's a native of Cazenovia and the author of a children's book that may help. It's called "Lakeside Friends, a Story about Cancer." Welcome to The Informed Patient, Dr. Bramlage.
Anne Bramlage, EdD: Thank you Amber, for having me. It's great to be here.
Host Amber Smith: Now, your book takes place in a village with a lake. Were you inspired by your hometown of Cazenovia?
Anne Bramlage, EdD: Yes, I was. I grew up in Cazenovia. At the age of four, my parents moved to Caz, and there I attended elementary, middle and high school. And then actually went off to college, and then later in life, I moved back for a few years. So Cazenovia has always been my hometown, and I still have family and many friends there.
Host Amber Smith: Were you always interested in becoming a writer when you were growing up? Is that something that you aspired to do?
Anne Bramlage, EdD: It's funny. I enjoyed writing, but I never thought it would be anything of importance or anything surmountable. I majored in elementary education and then became a teacher. And then later on, went back to get my doctorate. So education and reading has always been a fundamental key important aspect for me. And so now becoming a writer, I've really been able to embrace how I can further educate children.
Host Amber Smith: What grade do you teach?
Anne Bramlage, EdD: I was an elementary school teacher, so I taught in grades kindergarten and then 2nd grade for a little bit. And then 3rd grade. And then my last position was in more in middle school, kind of like a 5th grade, 5th and 6th grade.
Host Amber Smith: Interesting. Well, let's talk about this book. Can you give us a synopsis of the story?
Anne Bramlage, EdD: Sure thing. Brook invites to Joel to come to the lake. And Joel can't go to the lake because he has cancer. And so Brook learns through a real life analogy. I use an ant colony to kind of educate Brook about what cancer is. And at the end of the book, Brook gives a gift to Joel as a way of encouraging him as he goes through his, as he goes through his journey.
Host Amber Smith: And these children are elementary age children?
Anne Bramlage, EdD: Yes. The book is for ages three to about seven. But I've also had many young children read it -- 10-, 11-, 12-year olds read it. In fact, one of my close friends bought it for his son and he sent me an email saying, "Anne, your book is great. Thank you. My 11-year-old now understands cancer." And to my knowledge, they did not have any, there was no cancer diagnosis in their family at all. It just, his son now understands what cancer is.
Host Amber Smith: Well, tell me a little bit more about how the ant colony helps describe cancer for children.
Anne Bramlage, EdD: Yes. The ant colony. I wanted to really create a picture or an image or a way for children to understand what cancer was, cause it's really, it's a complex thing and there's many different types of cancers and different treatments and everything like that. So I use a simple ant colony to really describe the fundamental of what cancer is. Cancer is uncontrolled cell growth, and every cell in your body has a job to do just like every ant in a colony has a job to do. And when some ants don't do their job, the whole colony kind of suffers in the same way. When some out of control cells don't really do their job within the body, the body kind of suffers.
Host Amber Smith: Now your name is Anne Bramlage. How did you decide on using A.B. Namy as a pen name?
Anne Bramlage, EdD: So A.B. Namy, I kind of took the first initials Anne Bramlage, and put it as A.B., and then Namy is my maiden name. So having the books come from my hometown, it just kind of made the best sense to kind of use a pen name of my maiden name.
Host Amber Smith: Well, I understand that you survived childhood cancer. Can you tell us about that?
Anne Bramlage, EdD: Yes, absolutely. At the age of six, I was diagnosed with non osseous Ewing sarcoma, which in easy terms just simply means cancer, not in the bone. So it was in the tissue located under my right arm. And for about a year, my whole first grade year, actually, I was not in school. I received treatments, chemotherapy and radiation. And from then on, well during that time I lost my hair. I had a tutor that whole year. I did not go to school. So it was a challenging time, but I got through it. My parents were very supportive. And so were my friends.
Host Amber Smith: I was going to ask what you remember about the reaction of your friends, particularly.
Anne Bramlage, EdD: My friends that I knew were understanding. Two stories come to mind here when you ask me that question. The first one is, after each treatment -- and they were one, one treatment per month, just about -- so after treatment, my Dad would take me and whatever friend that I kind of chose at the time to kind of hang out with, so each month it could be a different friend. And we went to, we went to the mall, and so it was an evening where after my treatments, sometime after when I was, feeling better, I invited a friend to go to the mall. It was a time out, and my friends were able to ask questions. We were able to hang out and do real life things together. Because I hadn't missed so much of 1st grade, my parents didn't want me to lose relationships with friends. So we went to the mall. It was a great time. And that was just one time that I really remember being able to share with my friends, to have my Dad around. Sometimes my Mom would take me. It didn't matter. Either, either one.
And then on the flip side, I have a different story that is, it's not so great, but you know, it is what it is. One time I was heading to the bus. And this was kind of when I returned back to school, but my hair hadn't really grown in yet. So it was the end of the day. I was heading to the bus and at the bus, or somewhere on the way to the bus, there was this little boy that would always pick on me. And as a kid, I wore baseball caps because I didn't have any hair, and I just didn't want to go around bald, and I really didn't want to wear a wig at that age. So I wore a baseball cap. And he would always tease me that I didn't have hair. And so one of the teachers, one of the monitors there, saw this little boy picking on me. And from then on, I had a teacher escort me to my bus every day after school. But at the same time, I wonder what that little boy, if he would have treated me differently if he understood what I went through, and why I didn't have any hair. And maybe a resource like my book could have really benefited him in terms of what he could understand about it.
Host Amber Smith: This is Upstate's The Informed Patient podcast. I'm your host, Amber Smith, talking with author Anne Bramlage, who has written a children's book called "Lakeside Friends, a Story about Cancer."
Can you explain the process of creating this book? Did you have the complete story in your head before you started writing?
Anne Bramlage, EdD: I did not. So one of my friends asked me -- her mother recently was diagnosed with breast cancer and she had some young children elementary school age, and she knew my background and everything like that and asked me, "Ann, how am I going to tell my kids that their grandmother has cancer?"
And I said, "Well, I don't know. That's a really great question. Best of luck," type of thing. And I really got to thinking after that. So I did a little digging myself, and I read some books, some children's books about it. The books that I read that are out there were all geared toward children who have cancer, really going to see the doctor, what's going on in their body, really explaining cancer to them. So my book is unique in a way that it explains cancer too their friends, their siblings. Maybe it explains cancer to a family whose grandmother just learned that she had cancer. So that's where the idea came from. And in using a real life analogy is something that I was able to bring into the book where kids would understand it, who are not going through treatments. Not to say that this book is not for kids who are undergoing treatments as well. It is for both. But it really is a resource for parents to use, for siblings, for friends, for teachers to read in a classroom of maybe where they have a student who was diagnosed with cancer.
Host Amber Smith: How closely did you work with the artist? Because it's got really nice drawings all through the book.
Anne Bramlage, EdD: Thank you very much. I really worked with the artist. I wanted to show images of Cazenovia. I wanted to show images of that small town, and I really worked to create character development, so that in more books going forward, I can show the same characters again. And I just went back and forth with them a lot to get the images that I wanted. So I really appreciate that you like the images.
Host Amber Smith: As a survivor yourself of childhood cancer, what would you say to a child who's just been diagnosed?
I would say that they, that they can do it, that they can beat cancer. It might be tough. It will be tough. But they can do it. And this time will pass, and they can beat cancer. And cancer is beatable, and they can go back to having their normal life back, of being a kid and seeing their friends again, and this cancer that has happened in their life won't slow them down.
What would you say to that child's friends?
I would tell them what's going on, that their friend has some cells that just aren't doing the right job, that they're out of control, that they're, growing uncontrolled in their body. And they're just not doing their job. And the best way to be a friend is to encourage, to support, and do the best that they can in helping their friend out.
Host Amber Smith: You talked about your parents making sure that you maintained connections and friendships and going to the mall regularly, when you were able to. When, as an adult, you look back at what you went through as a child, is there anything you would've liked to change?
Anne Bramlage, EdD: The one thing that really stands out to me is there wasn't and -- I was six years old, and my siblings were four and one, so I had two younger brothers at the time, so they didn't ask too many questions -- the one thing though that I really, that I noticed looking back now is that there wasn't a ton of resources. And maybe there were more resources for my parents and they just, didn't really go on to share that so much with me, but there weren't books, there weren't podcasts. There wasn't as much awareness or even discussion about it. I remember just going to the doctor and learning more about what was going on in my body from the doctors. There weren't TV shows, there weren't books, like I said.So, that's one of the reasons why I wanted to write this, was to bring awareness, to bring knowledge, to bring understanding to people, to children..
Host Amber Smith: My guest has been Anne Bramlage, author of "Lakeside Friends, a Story about Cancer." I appreciate you making time for this interview, Dr. Bramlage.
Anne Bramlage, EdD: Thank you, Amber. It's been a pleasure.
Host Amber Smith: The Informed Patient is a podcast covering health, science and medicine, brought to you by Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, and produced by Jim Howe. Find our archive of previous episodes at upstate.edu/Informed. I'm your host, Amber Smith, thanking you for listening.