Dealing with the ‘cancer dragon’ — children’s book takes on a tough topic
It was five years ago that a dragon flew into the lives of Montserrat Coughlin Kim and her family.
Her husband, George Kim, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at the age of 44.
“This truly blindsided us,” Coughlin Kim remembered.
The couple’s two daughters, Kerala and Nola, were 10 and 6 years old respectively at the time of the diagnosis.
The Montclair resident found herself looking for books and advice to help her girls understand what was happening with their father, but she wasn’t satisfied with what she found.
Now, she wants to help other families that are fighting the cancer dragon as well. She has written a picture book for children called “My Dad and the Dragon,” with illustrations by professional illustrator Rebekah Cheresnick.
It is being published under the auspices of When a Dragon Comes LLC, the company Coughlin Kim started for the purposes of publishing the book, and she hopes to use the book’s proceeds to start a foundation to help cancer patients and their families.
Her husband, who died in 2019, was the most easygoing man, Coughlin Kim said, but there were moments when the cancer battle brought about a complete change in his personality: He would become overwrought or overly anxious.
“I started calling cancer ‘the cancer dragon,’” she said.
Coughlin Kim has a professional background in social work. She wanted to find something that would help her daughters cope with everything that was happening.
But she said she couldn’t find any books that really worked for her family’s specific needs. Online searches on sites such as Amazon found a lot of children’s books about mothers with cancer, particularly breast cancer, but not very many books in which the father had cancer.
The following year, the COVID-19 pandemic began. So in addition to grieving the loss of a husband and father, they now had to deal with the upheaval caused by the pandemic and school closures. It was especially hard for her younger daughter, who missed being able to go to school in person and seeing her friends and teachers.
The book took two years, from start to finish, Coughlin Kim said, from settling on the final draft to getting the book designed and printed.
The process included taking some fairly big, complex topics and talking about them in language and concepts that children would understand.
Kim was still alive and undergoing treatment at the time the book’s concept was being discussed. “He was so completely for it,” Coughlin Kim remembers.
When the first copy of the finished book arrived, Kerala took a video of her mother opening the package and taking out the book.
Today, Kerala is 15 and a freshman at Montclair High School, and Nola is 11 and a sixth grader at Buzz Aldrin Middle School. Both girls are doing well, Coughlin Kim said. She added that the girls had been working with therapists and counselors.
“We can do more to help parents talk to their children,” she said. For kids, she wants the message to be, “It’s OK. You can talk to your mom or your dad or your caregiver about it.”