By Contributing Writer - May 08, 2020
Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton’s new book, “Fritzy Finds a Hat,” helps families talk with their children as they tackle the difficult topic of cancer. The story follows Fritzy, a young boy who loves to skate and learns his mom has cancer. Throughout the imaginative picture book, Fritzy searches for the perfect hat he could give his mom to wear as she undergoes cancer treatments.
The book teaches children a powerful message of how their love and support sometimes can be the best medicine, while expressing to parents how children want to be involved and to help in some way. The subject is personal for Hamilton, who as a teenager lost his mother to cancer and later faced and survived his own diagnosis of cancer. He has founded several education and survivorship programs and is a member of Moffitt’s national Board of Advisors.
Hamilton and Mary Coffeen, chief of staff to the CEO at Moffitt, worked to develop the story, turning to Moffitt’s oncology social workers for input.
"Scott is so inspiring. Obviously, he is an Olympic champion, but also his dedication to curing cancer and to finding ways to help cancer patients is so impressive, so genuinely touching, and I was honored to work with him on the book and excited about the opportunity to tell his story, too,” said Coffeen.
Hamilton asked his friend country music superstar Brad Paisley, who also is an artist, to create the hat illustrations, which add a creative, whimsical touch to the gentle storyline.
FAMILIES FIRST HELPS ADDRESS CHILDREN’S NEEDS
“Raising children, maintaining their routines, and adhering to a treatment schedule can be challenging for parents. Amid all the demands of cancer treatment, children’s needs may inadvertently be overlooked. Children can be impacted in multiple ways, and parents often are unsure about how their children will cope with crises,” said Jolene Rowe, manager, Inpatient Social Work. “We recognize, too, that in the midst of everything children may have additional needs and parents may need some assistance in meeting those needs.”
Giving parents tools such as information about children’s normal reactions to serious illness in the family, their common fears and misconceptions and what they need to cope can ease parents’ worries. Books are a wonderful way to do this. It is not always easy to know what children are thinking because they often are not able to articulate what they are feeling. Highlighted in this book are some of the common fears that children have about a parent’s cancer diagnosis such as whether the disease is contagious or whether they may have caused the cancer. A big issue for children is a parent’s hair loss because it is a visible sign that something is different and that the parent is ill.
The book also touches on a way in which children can feel helpful and included in what is occurring in the family. “For example, children want to know that they can contribute to a parent’s recovery, that they can help their mom or dad get better. Fritzy finds a way to make his mom feel better and that makes him feel better, too,” said Rowe. “The book highlights the way kids think, what they worry about and what they need to cope.”
Reading the book together provides a way for parents and children to communicate about a difficult topic. “It’s a great opportunity for parents to learn what is on their children’s minds and for children to find the words and the courage to share their concerns. Children often don’t know how to articulate what’s bothering them or if it is OK to share their worries, and that’s why books like ‘Fritzy Finds a Hat’ are such wonderful tools for children and parents alike,” said Rowe.
Moffitt’s Families First Program is designed to help parents and their children adjust to the changes that occur within the family when a parent has cancer. The program’s experience has shown that education, preparation and support enable families to cope successfully in the face of crises.
EMPOWERING CHILDREN IN A HEALTHY WAY
“There was a big period of time where cancer was the ‘C’ word — you didn’t say it. And I think times have changed a lot since then [in terms of] the different options for treatment, how we celebrate survivorship, how we celebrate those battles won,” said Hamilton, a father of four children. “But still, for a child to witness a parent or a loved one going through harsh treatments, it is good to be able to empower them to participate — in a healthy way — so that they know they can really have an impact and go through it with their loved one.”
Asked what kind of reassurances he thought children need when they hear their parents have cancer, Hamilton replied, “Ultimately, everybody wants to know that mom is going to be OK…I think this book creates a conversation, it creates a really healthy path toward people knowing that they can do something, that they can participate in this thing and be a part of the healing or provide assistance or to let that person going through cancer know that they are not alone in this, that we are here to support.”
The book helps facilitate a different conversation, notes Hamilton. “We don’t necessarily have to shield our children as a default; we can empower our children and in a way that is healthy and cool and fun. It’s awesome to give our kids that level of power and confidence that they can do something [to help] in that way.”
The hard-cover, 32-page picture book created for ages 5 to 8 also appeals to parents and older children. Proceeds from the book sales will benefit cancer research at Moffitt and research funded through the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation. Proceeds also will benefit the Families First program at Moffitt, which provides guidance to parents in talking about cancer with their children.
Getting To Know ScottScott Hamilton’s outlook on life could be summed up by a quote appearing on his website: “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”
His positive attitude, coupled with skill and perseverance, led Hamilton to become the most recognized male figure skating star in the world, having won 70 titles. His awards and honors include an Emmy Award nomination, induction into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame and a privileged member of the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
At a young age Hamilton lost his mother to cancer, and he later survived his own battle with cancer. As an activist, he aims to inspire others as a speaker and humanitarian. Hamilton lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife, Tracie, and their four children.
Let’s hear what he has to say.
Favorite book (besides “Fritzy Finds a Hat”)?
Self-help/self-realization books during this season of life to help strategize “how to get to the finish line in the healthiest, best way.”
“It’s always my mom.”
Three favorite skating songs?
“In the Mood”
“Walk This Way”
“Hair” (“Because I was losing mine!” he laughs)
Coffee or tea?
“There are so many moments. My mom passed away, and I needed to respond in a way that was healthy while at the same time trying to be that person she always saw I could be. So, the proudest moment was making that choice to honor her and become more accountable and more responsible and to do things right and well.”