Wonders & Worries

Kids with seriously ill parents find support

Julia Hix played an active role in her daughters' lives as a mother, soccer coach and school volunteer, but when she was diagnosed with breast cancer last May, she feared becoming unable to care for her two daughters.

Just after her diagnosis, Hix attended a meeting at Wonders & Worries with daughter Melanie, 7, to learn how to be a parent while fighting cancer. The organization provides free support services to children ages 2–18 who have a parent or guardian with a physical life-threatening illness. After the first meeting, she and Melanie visited Wonders & Worries weekly.

"There were other moms that were bald, and there were other kids that had to deal with this. That was really amazing for [Melanie]. She loved it," Hix said.

Services for parents include support groups, consultations on discussing their illness with their children and eight-week training courses about maintaining stability for children during treatment. For children and teens, programs include individualized six-week education sessions about their parent's illness and one-on-one meetings with child life specialists.

Melanie bonded immediately with one of the child life specialists, Corinne Jorgenson, who taught Melanie how to express her emotions through crafts and what to expect when her mom came home from double-mastectomy surgery, Hix said.

"I don't know how we would have gotten through it without them," she said.

Meredith Cooper, executive director and co-founder of Wonders & Worries, said it is the only organization in Central Texas that specifically works with families that have an adult facing a life-threatening illness.

"We work with [the family] from the time of diagnosis through the illness, and because they have connected with us through that experience and have created that trusting therapeutic relationship, we continue to work with the family during the bereavement and loss," Cooper said.

She founded Wonders & Worries in 2001 with Melissa Hicks, and it has helped about 4,500 children and parents since then. There are three locations in Austin, one in North Carolina and one in Canada.

"There's a growing awareness that this is such a tremendous need," Cooper said. "One out of four people diagnosed with cancer have a child under the age of 18 living in their home."

Hix, who finished chemotherapy in October, said Melanie's experience with Wonders & Worries made it possible for Hix to focus on her treatment.

"I felt like that was a huge help for me. It was Melanie that was going to the counseling, but I had peace of mind that she was getting something that I really needed for her to understand," Hix said.

Each year the nonprofit hosts two fundraisers. The next event is Qu Maravilla on April 5 at the Austin Music Hall.