Caregiver Profile: Silvana Zucca
In honor of National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we asked Silvana to share her family’s story – how they got through her son’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, and how they all found hope with the help of local resources like the Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara.
Madison was just ten years old when his doctor gave him and his family the incomprehensible news: the back pain that had initially brought him to the doctor was caused by Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a cancer of lymph tissue. At an age when most boys are focused on sports, video games, and hanging out with friends, Madison was dealing with some very serious issues – starting with cancer treatment and recovery.
Under the care of Dr. Francisco Bracho, Madison started treatment in Ventura. Once the medical component was under control, Madison’s mother, Silvana, began to seek emotional support for the family. Her friend referred her to the Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara, which happened to be right down the street from where they live in Thousand Oaks. “I knew I needed to talk to someone. I just walked in and said ‘I need help,’ and they set me up with individual counseling sessions,” says Silvana. Madison and his brother Giovanni, who was eight years old at the time, also participated in programs at CscVvsb; Madison had individual sessions with therapist Kayo Matsumoto, MFTI, and Giovanni attended Kids Circle – a support group for children who have a family member with cancer.
“I think talking to Kayo really helped Madison release some steam,” recalls Silvana. “He is a real thinker. He’ll ponder things for a long time. He could talk to me but then I was taking what I had plus taking what he had, and I could only take so much. It helped him to be able to talk to someone other than me.”
When a recurrence of the cancer sent Madison back into treatment and into the hospital for a bone marrow transplant, Silvana saw just how much the counseling had been helping him. “During that time we had a hard time getting together with Kayo, and he wasn’t talking to anyone regularly. One day he was extra quiet, and then he just exploded – he was a mess. I knew it was because he hadn’t been talking to Kayo about what was going on.”
Going to Kids Circle also helped Giovanni as he dealt with having a sibling with cancer. “Kids Circle was perfect for Giovanni because he didn’t want to sit down and talk about his feelings but talking about things in a fun way is different,” says Silvana.
Childhood cancer takes an immense toll on parents. Silvana found emotional support through individual counseling with a licensed therapist at CscVvsb. When VP of Programs Jody Tompkins, MA, LMFT formed a group for parents of childhood cancer survivors, Silvana was happy to participate. “Right now I’m in ‘get back to life as it used to be’ mode, and kind of pushing away all my cancer thoughts because I’ve had cancer on my brain for two years without a break,” says Silvana. “I know that’s not one hundred percent healthy all the time, and it’s good to be able to check in with the group and think about what’s happened and how we’re dealing with it. I would love to say it’s all behind me now. But I know it’s not – and I need to continue to discuss it with other parents who are going through the same thing.”
The family also found a group they could all attend at the Ventura County Medical Center – a monthly dinner with fun activities for children and a chance for Silvana and her husband Matt to meet other parents of childhood cancer survivors. “I really wanted Madison to be able to talk to other kids going through this,” says Silvana. “At first we were totally isolated and kids at his school didn’t know what to say. It was very important for him to be with other kids that really do know how he feels.” The free program is a collaboration between CscVvsb, Landon Pediatric Foundation, Ventura County Medical Center’s Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, St. John’s Cancer Center and The Teddy Bear Foundation.
Three years after his diagnosis, Madison is out of treatment and just started eighth grade. He loves being active, climbing trees, and playing basketball. Through a scholarship provided by another local organization called Cancer Fit, Madison has found a favorite new hobby: gymnastics.
We would like to thank Silvana, Matt, Madison and Giovanni for sharing their story!
To learn more about the free programs provided by the Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara, please call 805.379.4777 or visit www.cancersupportvvsb.org.