OAKLAND — After Emma Bishopp found out her 5-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with cancer, she could not look at a family picture of her three children without imagining one of them missing.

She thought her daughter Lauren — who was looking forward to a Build-A-Bear birthday party — had a bright future. But suddenly, it looked very dim.

"My worst nightmare had come true,'' said Bishopp, 41, of Lafayette. "I found it very difficult to get beyond the fact that she was going to die.''

Bishopp's outlook changed, however, with the help of two clinical psychologists at Children's Hospital Oakland who specialize in working with child cancer patients and their families. Dina Hankin and Pamela Orren work in the hospital's Hematology/Oncology Department and provide free counseling services.

But at the end of the month, these therapists will lose their jobs because funding from a private benefactor has dried up.

Now, Bishopp and 15 other families are racing against time to raise money to save the jobs. The families are hoping the free counseling geared toward children who have cancer and their parents and siblings will continue. The psychologists help families through crisis mode, bereavement, pain management, school reintegration and other cancer-related issues.

In 1997, a family that had a child with cancer set up a foundation to show their appreciation to the hospital. Today, the hospital's model is one of the most innovative in the Bay Area for providing psychological services for children who have cancer and their extended families. The long-term follow up services offered to the growing number of pediatric cancer survivors makes the program unique.


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Research shows that 5 percent to 10 percent of parents with children who have cancer develop post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Journal of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology.

"You are in such a fog, and you have so much information thrown at you,'' Bishopp said. "It is very difficult to find anyone who understands the issues.''

During the past six years, Hankin and Orren have counseled about 300 families. Orren is bilingual and works with many Hispanic families.

"I've worked with these families for so long,'' Hankin said, " ... the idea of not being able to see them and help them process through each step of the way of their child's treatment is sad.''

During the past month, Bishopp and many other families have created the Psychology Oncology Program, or P.O.P,, a nonprofit under the hospital's foundation. They also have written several grant proposals and designed a Web site. Currently, they are meeting with private foundations and brainstorming ideas for fundraising events. The group is looking to raise stopgap funding of $125,000 to cover the cost of the counseling services for the next six months. Bishopp said about $250,000 is needed for the total cost of running the program annually, including salaries and a support staff. In addition, the program is seeking reimbursement help from medical insurance companies.

Many parents helping in the effort have children undergoing cancer treatment and say they worry about how their families will cope if the counseling services go away. They say even a gap of one month would make it difficult for them.

"The services have been free of charge, otherwise families won't go out and look for it, because it's an added expense they can't afford,'' Bishopp said. "The services are all-embracing and help families move forward in a positive way.''

Typically, psycho-social counseling is not covered by most insurance companies. In the some cases where it is available, it only extends to the patient and not their families.

From 20 percent to 95 percent of parents caring for children with cancer develop post-traumatic stress symptoms, including fatigue and weight change, according to the Journal of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology.

In February 2005, Lauren was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia, cancer of the bone and white blood cells. She was 90 percent leukemic in her bone marrow, and her immune system was low and at severe risk of infection. For the next several months, Lauren underwent intensive chemotherapy and was injected with a cocktail of drugs into her spinal cord and central nervous system. She became bloated from taking steroids and gained one- quarter of her body weight in four weeks. She also lost of her hair.

Bishopp said her daughter was in denial and had anger issues and mood swings. She also was afraid of dying, and felt isolated and frustrated about why the cancer came to her, Bishopp said.

"I got really mad and things built up in my heart,'' said Lauren, now 8. "When I talked to the doctors they would help me find a way to stop the anger and from being worried.''

The psychologists counseled her through play therapy, art and self-esteem games. They also worked with Bishopp and her husband to save their marriage and deal with the stress of having a child with cancer. In addition, the psychologists helped Lauren's siblings, who were worried about their sister's health.

Lauren has been cancer free since April but her family still lives with the fear of relapse. Bishopp said the emotional support they receive from the psychotherapists has helped them to take one day at a time.

"Going to therapy helped me get to a place where I thought Lauren could survive,'' Bishopp said. "It gave me some hope about moving forward.''

To make a donation to the Psychology Oncology Program, visit www.chofoundation.org/pop or mail checks care of the P.O.P program at 2201 Broadway Suite 600 Oakland, CA 94612.

Contact Kamika Dunlap at kdunlap@bayareanewsgroup.com or (510) 208-6448.