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Atlanta Jewish Times | 1997 American Public Health Association Film Festival Selection | The Atlanta Journal |
GCS Connection | Coping | Atlanta Business Chronicle | Jackson Progress-Argus

"Shark Bait"
Roni Robbins, Atlanta Jewish Times, December 1997

When H. Elizabeth King was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, her 7-year old son coped with the disease by drawing pictures of sharks attacking the malignant cells.

"It was difficult on my son," King, a child psychologist, told 30 people at a breast cancer forum Monday. The program at the Atlanta Jewish Federation’s Selig Center included several breast cancer specialists and was sponsored by the American Associates of Ben-Grunion University and other Jewish organizations. "I looked so terrible," King recalls of her chemotherapy treatment. "I looked so green, and it was bizarre to have no hair. At one point I had no eyebrows or eyelashes."

In response to her son’s vision, King created a "Kemo Shark" comic book with him that discussed breast cancer and chemotherapy on a child’s level. Later, King also created a video, "My Mom has breast cancer" to help other women and their families address their feelings about the disease.

King recalls her 12 year old daughter, Morgan McGough, locking herself in her room and not wanting to talk about the situation and her son, Mitchell, telling her, "Please don’t die ‘til I’m a big boy. I talked with friends and they had similar reactions from their children"

King showed excerpts from the video to the predominantly female audience that voiced the concerns and fears of children of cancer patients. Most of the children had difficulty concentrating and sleeping; some had nightmares. Other children were sad and depressed, or overwhelmed and confused by their feelings.

The mothers on the video cited the changes that prevented them from caring for their children as they did before the disease struck. "I looked terrible. I had no energy. I couldn’t carpool. I couldn’t tuck [her son] into bed at night," one woman said.

The children seemed to understand their mother’s limitations. And according to one girl, altered appearances and reduced stamina don’t change the bottom line: "She’s still my mom."

Making it a little easier for families to deal with breast cancer are advances in treatment. It is less painful and debilitating to women than it was two decades ago, Michael Koretz, senior surgeon of surgical oncology at Ben-Gurion University’s Soroka Medical Center, told the audience.

"Before, there were mutilating, disfiguring biopsies. Now we can determine [the cancer] from a needle," Koretz said. "Now we use local anesthesia and there is little pain. It is less invasive." Also, mastectomies, the surgical removal of the breast, "are relegated to medical history." The procedure is only used in 20 to 30 percent of the cancer cases. But some doctors remain convinced the bigger the operation, the better, he said. Not Koretz, He prefers treatment that preserves the breast.

Years ago doctors also thought removal of the lymph nodes cured cancer. "It did help decide what additional treatment was needed." But many complications also arose from the removal of lymph nodes. The way to save lives nowadays is through early diagnosis, he said. That does not mean discovering a 1-inch tumor on the breast while bathing. "It means finding a minute legion on a mammogram." In cases in which the cancer is detected before it spreads to the lymph nodes, women have a 90 percent or greater chances of a cure with minimal surgery, Koretz said.

"I am surprised to hear there are still barriers to mammography in this country, Koretz said. Israeli medical facilities, he said, do a better job of encouraging women through postcards, setting a date time and place for screening. Those mailings, though, tend to target older women in their 60s and 70s more than younger women, he said.

Still, the future of breast cancer treatment looks promising. With early detection and more screening methods, including ultrasound, the progress of the past two decades can only improve further, he said. 



September 2, 2020

Atlanta, GA—KidsCope, an non-profit organization dedicated to helping families and children understand the effects of chemotherapy in a parent, announced today that their video MY MOM HAS BREAST CANCER has been selected by the AMERICAN PUBLIC HEALTH ASSOCIATION for exhibition at their 1997 film festival to be held in Washington D.C. this year. 

MY MOM HAS BREAST CANCER - A Guide For Families is a 33 minute video free to medical professionals and clinics. The video includes the commentary by clinical psychologist H. Elizabeth, Ph.D., herself a breast cancer survivor and mother, plus interviews with four mothers who have survived breast cancer and their seven children. The video is divided into segments that highlights topics which include: Sharing the diagnosis; Impact of treatment; Changes in family life; How kids cope; and After treatment.

“The interviews provide insights from the children’s perspective,” said Dr. King, “The video is especially valuable as a coping tool for kids confronted with this confusing and frightening situation.”

Sara Lee Foundation provided crucial support to help produce the video. “After hundreds of hours had been invested in taping and production, we were delighted to have received Sara Lee Foundation’s generous grant which we used to complete the video,” said Charles Center, board member of KidsCope, Inc. “It is possible that we would still be working on the video to try to bring the project to completion without their generosity.”

Two copies a day of MY MOM HAS BREAST CANCER have been requested since the beginning of 1997. The organization has received requests from 44 states and four countries. Although a donation is requested, the materials are sent whether a donation is forthcoming or not.

“As a company committed to families, we saw in KidsCope the opportunity to provide information to help children who have a parent going through chemotherapy. We are especially excited that we were able to support such a widely distributed and meaningful tool for children and families in such a difficult circumstance.” Robin Tryloff, Senior Manager-Community Relations

Shark Attack On Cancer
Atlanta Journal, August 7, 2020

When Mitchell McGough of Atlanta found out his mom had breast cancer; he was worried and confused. Mitchell, 7, thought about cancer all the time. How could his mom have gotten it? Could he catch it if he kissed her?

He was angry about her illness and how sick her medicine made her. She was getting drugs to kill the cancer. Doctors called the drugs chemotherapy. He pictured the drugs as a shark, Kemo Shark, in his mom's body, killing all the bad cells.

Through drawing pictures of Kemo Shark, he was able to talk about the things that scared him. Mitchell and his mom, Elizabeth, have made a comic book called "Kemo Shark" that tells other kids about chemotherapy.

Kemo is a good shark. He stalks and kills cancer cells with his stun vision. When Kemo accidentally hurts good cells that look like cancer cells, uh-oh! These are the bad side effects of the drugs. They make Mom feel sick and lose her hair. Kemo helped Mitchell understand things he didn't think were fair. Like: Why did Mom get to eat three popsicles when he could only eat one? Kemo said Mom needed extra fluids to get well.

Georgia Cancer Specialists (GCS) Connections, Fall 1996

Elizabeth King was a child psychologist in a thriving practice when a neighbor's diagnosis with breast cancer prompted her to have her own health checked. As unlikely as it might have seemed, it was determined that she had an advanced tumor in one of her breasts, and it was malignant.

Even worse, in the course of treating her breast cancer, King was found to have a brain tumor that was nonmalignant. But it was growing rapidly and had to be removed. Such were the two surprises she experienced at age 46.

After her diagnosis and explaining it to her son, who was not quite 8 ears old, he was one of the few who were able to express their emotion. She also had a daughter who was 11, who was also affected by the diagnosis.

"The children were weeping, and my son was able to get right to the heart of the matter, because he was immediately concerned about whether or not I was going to die," said King. "He asked me if I couldn't wait until he was big like his sister, because he was just a little boy." King opted for a double mastectomy, since she had 19 positive lymph nodes in the affected breast, and it was determined that the cancer was likely to appear in her other breast. Asked if the decision to have a double mastectomy was a difficult one, she replied, "Not a bit. That decision took about five minutes. Each."

After the mastectomy, she decided to do high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell rescue. When she got home from the hospital, her son had drawn her a "welcome home" picture with a flag and a picture of a U.S. Marine, since King's father had been a Marine. After the chemo began, he began drawing pictures of a character he created called Kemo Shark. "He drew Kemo eating the cancer cells, and he would draw pictures with words that said, 'Oops, I missed one,'" said King. "He was terribly afraid that the chemotherapy would not get all the cancer cells." "My son and I would talk about his hero Kemo Shark," said King. "I was basically trying to give him a metaphor for what was happening to my body so that he could identify in a positive way. For example, it's O.K. if Mommy doesn't have any eyebrows."

When King was first diagnosed, she was struck by the lack of child-friendly material on cancer. That gave rise to the establishment of a non-profit organization called Kidscope. Kidscope's first product was a book entitled "Kemo Shark." With colorful illustrations and text written by King, the book portrays Kemo Shark as a friend of cancer patients because he is trying to kill the cancer cells. However, it describes how Kemo Shark kills some of the "good cells" and, for example, makes one's hair fall out, in an attempt to help children understand how their parents are suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy. "We're serious and our products are going to be good," said King.

There were other ways that King attempted to heal herself emotionally. About five women in her neighborhood were diagnosed with breast cancer, so they all began to meet to help support each other - to discuss treatments, feelings about the cancer, etc.

Four of these women and their children have participated in Kidscope's second product - a 33 minute video in five parts. It includes interviews with the mothers, and the hope is that it will be a video that parents will want to give to their children as they struggle to understand a parent's battle with cancer.

As for whether or not having had cancer has changed her, King's reply is an emphatic, "Yes." "I don't believe anybody can go through that kind of experience and not be changed," said King. "For me, I think a big part of it was to see more clearly how important people and my friends are. I had always prided myself on being independent and successful, and the cancer taught me that other people were what I needed the most.

"Introducing...Kemo Shark!"
Mary Brooks, Coping, Jan/Feb 1996

When a parent has cancer, children suffer. And one way they suffer is often through a misunderstanding of what is happening inside their loved one's body. Mitchell McGough of Atlanta had many questions about his mother's breast cancer and her treatment.

"Why does the medicine that is supposed to make you better make you sick?" That question is very common among children of cancer survivors, and it isn't always easy to answer. So, when Mitchell began asking questions of that sort, his mom, Dr. Elizabeth King, a child pyschologist, answered with pictures and in terms he was able to understand.

Together, the dynamic duo has not only helped each other cope but has created a comic book that can help other children learn to understand chemotherapy. Mitchell pictured the chemotherapy drugs as a shark, Kemo Shark. This "good" shark was in his mom's body, trying to kill the bad cells.

The Kemo Shark comic book is now one means of support being offered by Kidscope, Inc. Kidscope is a non-profit corporation formed for the purpose of distributing educational material for children whose parents have cancer. The goal of the group is to help families and children better understand the effects of cancer. Pronounced as "Kids Cope," one of the missions of the organization is to improve the chances that a child will successfully cope with a parent's illness. Read another way, "Kid Scope," the name suggests that another purpose is to try and look at the problem of a parent's cancer from the children's point of view.

"It is our belief that children have a unique perspective and that their perspective changes as they go through various developmental changes," writes Dr. King. "It is our hope that in bringing to the families some basic information about what to expect and how their child is coping, and some clear and convincing portrayals of children who have coped successfully with such a life event, we will improve the quality of life for any family who undergoes the trauma of diagnosis and the grueling weeks and months of treatment for cancer."


"Group helps kids cope with a parent's cancer"
Paige Bowers, Atlanta Business Chronicle, November 23-29, 2001

"When local child psychologist Dr. Elizabeth King was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, her 7-year-old son started drawing pictures of a cartoon animal to express his feelings about his mother's illness. "My 7-year-old was most vocal about his feelings," King said. "He talked about how chemotherapy made me look so awful and that it was embarrassing and scary for him to see me like that. He wanted his friends to see a normal mom, and he didn't understand how this chemotherapy worked and what its side effects were. So after explaining it to him, he started drawing these pictures of a shark that swam around in his mother's stomach to eat all the bad cells."

Named "Kemoshark," the cartoon animal was the catalyst for a nonprofit, tax-exampt, 501 (c) 3 organization called Kidscope, which King, her husband, Charles Center, and others started in 1994 to help children understand the effects of cancer and chemotherapy in a parent.

Broad distribution
Kidscope offers children free 16-page comic books featuring Kemoshark to help explain the psychological and physiological changes a family undergoes when a parent has cancer and chemotherapy, King said. The group also offers a free video called "My Mom Has Breast Cancer," which includes interviews with seven children and four mothers who have endured the breast cancer experience.

To date, Center said, Kidscope has distributed roughly 40,000 comics and 20,000 videos. Chapter 11 bookstores first started displaying Kemoshark comics, while a Web site (www.kidscope.org) has helped the group reach all 50 states and 30 countries and has precipitated the need for translations into Spanish, Arabic, Japanese and Danish, Center said.

Meanwhile, Blockbuster Video has helped with the video distribution, Center said, adding that the rental company offers the videos in some of its stores across the country. The organization has been able to do that on the $50,000 a year donated by private individuals, companies such as the Sara Lee Corp., and foundations such as the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Center said the group spends about $1000 a month just in postage, and has had to reorder more than 4000 new copies of the Kemoshark comic book. "Expenditures vary year to year based on what we collect", Center said. "But since we never know when someone's going to send a check, Betty and I have put a lot of our own money into Kidscope."

As patients and parents
King said that it's common for children to react to a parent's cancer with a "universal response of shock and terror." After all, she said, a child's first instinct is to ask whether his or her parent will die. "What they do after that varies," King said. "For example, my daughter is very verbal and bright and has never met a stranger. When she found out I had breast cancer, she quit talking to anybody. On the other hand, my son, who is a much more closed, private person, just started talking to everybody. You can't predict how any child will react. It's a very individual thing. Some children will lie down in bed and talk with you about it. Others will act like you're a leper and they don't want to be around you. Some kids even get angry at their mothers for being sick. You, as a cancer patient, have to accept that it's their emotional response, but as a parent, you have to know how and when to put limits on some of their behavior." King said the key for parents with cancer is that they must be reassuring. "You need to be able to tell your children that it's their job to go to school, play with friends, and be happy, so that they don't have to feel like they have to suffer and mourn while you're sick. The positive way to cope is to learn to reach out to other friends and activities and to continue with life," she said.

Filling a need
That's why educational materials are important, King said, and why she decided to tackle what she felt was a barely touched issue. The local chapter of the American Cancer Society also provides educational materials about cancer for children, said spokesperson, Ken Durden, with a variety of books, programs, and scholarships for children. Other community resources provide cancer-related services. One of these organizations, Durden said, is "The Front Porch of Atlanta, which offers support groups and services for people who have lost parents or siblings to cancer.

"A lot of people who get cancer, myself included, feel like they need to give back to the world in some sort of way," King said. "That was my motivation for starting Kidscope. Many people said I should write a book, but I thought there were plenty of women writing very good books about that. No one was doing enough at the time to help the children whose mothers had breast cancer."


"Kemo Shark swims around world helping cancer patients' kids"
Diane Glidewell, Jackson Progress-Argus, November 26, 2020

There are many organizations for students at Jackson High School. One group that is relatively small but successful is the group known as the Jackson Road Devils. It is sponsored by teacher Marshall King and is for students who are in a functional, rather than an academic or technical curriculum. It provides community-based instruction, work experience, and trips for recreation and leisure for these students.

Since September 2007, the Jackson Road Devils have had a special project every Wednesday morning that has helped children and their families throughout the United States and in countries on almost every continent. They are filling orders for Kemo Shark and sending him out to help fight the fear and uncertainty that comes into the lives of children whose parents or other important adults have to fight cancer and endure cancer treatments.

Students Mike Moore, Lucas Adamson, Charlie Watson, Brandon Cox, and John Walden, primarily under the supervision of King and Coni Hiett, check the week's orders and carefully sort and package for mailing the brightly illustrated comic book and related compact disc that use Kemo Shark to represent cancer treatment and turn the complex idea of cancer treatment into something concrete that children and their families can discuss and then more easily come to terms with. Orders may be for a single comic book and disc or for hundreds of sets. King drops the packages at the Locust Grove Post Office each Wednesday afternoon.

Kemo Shark is produced by the non-profit organization Kidscope, Inc. of Atlanta. Orders have been filled primarily by volunteers at Emory University since the organization was founded, but new rules at Emory requiring that all student volunteers be supervised by professors made a change necessary. King saw a need that his students could fill, and the Jackson Road Devils have mailed out over 1,000 copies of Kemo Shark to those requesting it in the last 14 months.

Kidscope, Inc. began in 1995. King's sister, Elizabeth King, who was a professor at Emory University for years, was diagnosed with breast cancer and her outlook for survival was initially not optimistic. Her son was about nine-years-old at the time and in fighting to explain her condition and her chemotherapy to him, he came up with Kemo Shark, "a strong warrior who can find and kill cancer cells" but who does cause some side effects.

King's sister has fully recovered and has successfully passed the five-year survivor window, but her experience still motivates her to help other caretakers and children cope through Kidscope. King's students enjoy being a part of this help by packing the educational literature for shipment and attaching address and "Do not bend" labels. They enjoy pointing out that King's picture appears on Page 8 of the comic book.

The books come in English and Spanish. They have gone to Great Britain, Australia, Ireland, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, and New Zealand. U.S. Homeland Security curtailed the shipments to many non-English speaking countries, however. "We appreciate the good comments we get back," said Hiett. "It means a lot to know we're helping. The students are very careful about getting the right number and right labels for each order."

"Two weeks ago, we sent 200 orders to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. One time we sent 200 to a clinic in California," said King. "We might have 10 orders one week and 500 another week. We seem to have more requests in the Fall and around holidays. Some of the requests are particularly touching, like a marine biology teacher in Maryland who wanted her students to understand what she was going through in her treatments. Some requests are from mothers supporting their daughters with cancer rather than mothers with cancer. Even adult children write us to say they appreciate our efforts."

For the Jackson Road Devils, helping people all over the world is just part of a week's work.