Children and teens going through cancer or who have loved ones experiencing cancer are under unique pressures, according to Mary Hald, the Coordinator for the Youth, Teen & Family Program (YTF) at Cancer Support Community Arizona (CSCAZ).

“Their emotions are heightened because they’re scared,” she said. “In many cases, they’ve taken on added responsibilities to help out around the house, so their parents or caregivers can focus on treatment and recovery. Often, they have a hard time expressing themselves or feel powerless.”

That’s why CSCAZ offers the YTF program: to give children and teens a “safe space” where they can build community with other youths who understand exactly what they are going through. Adolescents can learn coping strategies and talk about their situation in a supportive, judgment-free zone. The program also offers a variety of fun social events, where families can relax and let go of their concerns, enjoy light-hearted fun, or make a piece of art together.

Mary Hald wearing NAU graduation gown

Mary Hald, who earned her social work degree earlier this year, says her internship at CSCAZ in northern Arizona helped prepare her to lead the YTF program.

Mary, who graduated from Northern Arizona University with a degree in social work earlier this year, joined the YTF program in May. She was already very familiar with the work of CSCAZ, however, having helped open the CSCAZ campus in northern Arizona as a social work intern during her senior year of college. She said she draws on that experience often in her work for the YTF program, but also has another asset – her youth.

“The people who come to our program know I was their age not that long ago,” she said. “I know more about what’s going on in their world; I get the TikTok references.” 

YTF programs are based in the “Hope Hub,” a series of rooms that are located just behind the main house at 360 E. Palm Lane. The Hub includes a room for smaller children with a play area and interlocking foam puzzle pieces covering the floor. Next to it, a room geared for teens features a TV, bean bag chairs, and a miniature pool table. 

The Hub went through an extensive renovation when YTF programs had to be suspended during the height of the pandemic. Much of the renovations were courtesy of the Phoenix Suns and now the door to the Hope Hub features a photo of the Sun’s Gorilla mascot. The new, revamped YTF area launched this spring with a big party. 

YTF offerings include Cookies and Community, a support program which invites teens to explore different topics each month. This month the gatherings are focused on mental health, including the importance of self-care. During October, the theme will be conquering your fears.

Expressive Arts, family meals and movies are often part of family events, like the recent Pizza & PJ’s event that included a showing of Encanto, or the Bob Ross-inspired art night that encouraged participants to paint “happy little trees.”

Next month, Halloween will take center stage with Halloween movie night on October 7, a mask-making evening on October 18, and the annual Trunk or Treat / Celebrando Dia de Los Muertos on October 28.

While most participants are impacted because someone close to them has cancer, all YTF programs are also open to children and teens who have been diagnosed with cancer themselves, Mary said. Reaching out and serving more of that population is one of her main goals 

Learn more about YTF programs by visiting our events calendar. If you have any questions about the program or just want to say hi to Mary, reach out to her at ytf@cscaz.org. She’d love to hear from you.