Today we’d like to introduce you to Sharon Chappell.
Sharon, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
In November 2017, at 44 years old, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My father was dying from brain cancer at the time. My daughter was 11 years old. I struggled to find resources for her and saw a need to help other families like mine. I knew well the pain of watching someone with cancer. When I was seven, my father battled through lymphoma, which left him with a weakened heart and later a heart transplant. The immunosuppressants from the transplant ultimately led to the brain cancer. I did not understand the depth of my need for support until I was diagnosed and saw my own daughter experiencing the same worries and fears that I had felt as a child. I knew she needed more tools, and so did I.
During 2018, I received a wide range of treatments for breast cancer. I experienced physical and emotional changes that required deep strength, persistence and self-reflection. I worked to unlearn many harmful ways of thinking about myself to help my body heal. My goal was to journey through cancer with an open heart, creativity, positivity and vulnerability. Part of this process was writing the book, The Little Green Monster: Cancer Magic! I raised over $8,000 from individual donors to support illustrating and publishing the book, as well as donating over 1,000 copies to children, families, cancer support organizations, hospitals, schools, and libraries nationwide.
As I began partnering with cancer support organizations, particularly Susan G. Komen Orange County, Camp Kesem at Chapman University, and Kids Konnected, I realized that the children impacted by cancer who received the Little Green Monster book needed additional creative experiences to interact with the book, its characters, and message of imagination. They needed arts workshops and little monster friend experiences to support their healing. They needed spaces to process feelings and stress and make meaningful, new family memories during the cancer journey. I also knew that the broader public of children and their adult caregivers needed exposure to the topic of cancer through the creative arts so that everyone can understand, cope with, and thrive through the ways cancer affects all of us.
There is a tremendous need to provide family-based cancer support. According to the American Cancer Society, over 5 million children nationwide are impacted by their parents’ cancer. As early as 2010, data shows that 18% of all cancer cases were parents with children under the age of 18. In 2012, data shows that .3% of all US families have a parent diagnosed with cancer. In particular, 30% of new female cancer cases in 2018 were breast cancer diagnoses, many with young children.
I was one of those female breast cancer cases, with a child who needed her mother. And I was as scared and worried as she was. I wrote poetry and the story of The Little Green Monster. I discovered my passion. I wanted to show my daughter that “sometimes the fear won’t go away, so you’ll have to do it afraid.” I showed up daily, thinking positively, wanting my cancer to mean something beyond me. I wanted to help other children and other parents who were going through this difficult journey. I found that creativity heals. That is why I started the Little Green Monster Project, a creative-arts project to support children and families impacted by cancer.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I enjoy working with the families and cancer support organizations, building partnerships and designing creative experiences. These are my strengths. Yet, I have struggled with self-worth, depression, and anxiety. This mood disorder has been with me since childhood, and while cancer refocused me and my thinking toward positivity, self-care, and mindfulness, I still struggle with the isolation of working as a one-woman show. It is difficult to start a mission-driven project that gains momentum and audience faster than it does funding or staff. I am truly thankful for my family and friends, who are steadfastly encouraging and provide support however they can. Yet, I perform all the functions of a small charity project: director, development and marketing, community engagement, education, and administration. I often wonder if I am adequate at my work. I question myself. I worry. But I persist. I put post-it notes throughout the house with empowering statements to encourage me to continue. I know that what I am doing is worthwhile and meaningful. So, I push through the hard emotions when they come so I can accomplish my goals.
The Little Green Monster Project – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The Little Green Monster Project believes that a love for the arts and a passion for its power to heal are essential qualities of mission, services and staff. This makes us unique as an organization in the field of cancer support. We value the personal creative and cancer-based expertise that our staff and volunteers bring to the work. The Little Green Monster Project is directed by a credentialed bilingual arts educator who survived breast cancer and helped care for her father during his brain cancer. We actively employ staff and recruit volunteers who are artists themselves, as well as teachers, cancer caregivers, and survivors. Further, we value the imagination of each child and their family, as they engage in LGM workshops, as well as family readings our book and playing with the little monster friends they receive.
Since 2018, we have helped children talk about cancer diagnosis, treatment, survivorship and loss. We use the creative arts to process feelings and stress, and to make meaningful, new family memories during the cancer journey. Our programs include book readings and art workshops, arts-based support groups, and book and little monster friend duffle donations. The Little Green Monster Project wants to increase the availability of the arts for children impacted by cancer. Our programs and resources are available regardless of ability to pay. Our five-year goal is to provide nationwide access to arts-based experiences and resources in multiple languages for children impacted by a parent/caregiver’s cancer.
In our first year (2018-2019), we have:
– Donated 2,000 copies of The Little Green Monster: Cancer Magic! in 15 states.
– Partnered and donated to over 60 organizations nationwide: hospitals and other medical centers, cancer support community organizations, libraries, schools, religious groups, counseling centers, family resource centers, foundations, coalitions, and youth groups and camps.
– Facilitated 30 free literacy and creative arts cancer-awareness events held in LA and Orange County
– Reached over 3,000 families impacted by cancer, general child audiences, teachers, family-school liaisons, university students, camp counselors, and peer cancer navigators (through events and donations).
– Worked with 50 adult & child volunteers who sewed over 100 Little Monster Friends to accompany the book for gifting to children during their family’s cancer journey.
Over the next five years, The Little Green Monster’s primary focus is to expand the accessibility and reach of our resources and workshops nationwide in the languages of the children, families and communities we serve. We plan to donate an additional 1,000 copies of the book and 100 Little Monster friends each year. We plan to increase our in-person workshops with families and training of cancer support organization staff and educators in each state we add to our partnerships until we are able to support children and families nationwide.
What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
My favorite moments are watching the children interact with the book, their little monster friends, and the art materials in the workshop. One child said, “The book helped me learn about healthy cells and cancer cells.” Another asked, “Can I read it again?” A group of children talked about which emotions and little monster expressions they liked and practiced making them. One child named his monster, “Grrr.” One child sang to the “Fight Song” to himself while making a clay monster. Another child said, “My monster has slashes and gashes. It is ripped up. It has been through a lot to be here, but it is still here.” Children who have received the Little Monster Friends have used the monsters to help them talk about their loved ones impacted by cancer and to enjoy their own creativity during a difficult time. One child said, “I will give my monster 10,000 hugs to help my mommy. Will you hug my monster and help my mommy too?” Another said, “I am flying with the wings of my monster.”
This spring 2019, I was honored as the Celebrate Literacy Author of the Year from the Orange County Reading Association. This was such a surprise and showed me that others recognize the valuable role of reading and creativity in children’s healing, as well as my commitment to ensure that children have increased access to these literacy and art-based experiences as we struggle to understand the impact of cancer at home and in society.
- $20 donation for a book copy of The Little Green Monster: Cancer Magic!
- $40 donation for duffle bag with a Little Monster Friend, stickers, activity page and book
- Website: www.littlegreenmonster.org
- Phone: 650-766-6808
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org