Parenting with cancer: CLIMB supports Pittsburgh families

Being a parent can be stressful and difficult; being a parent with cancer makes a tough job even more arduous. But a new six-week support group for kids and teens who have a parent with cancer aims to lighten the burden a bit.

Our Clubhouse, a nonprofit that provides emotional and social support to those touched by cancer in western Pennsylvania, is now offering CLIMB, the first program of its kind in the region.

“Parenting is one of the most challenging jobs in the world, but when a parent is diagnosed with cancer, it becomes even more complicated,” says Angela Byrnes, communications manager at Our Clubhouse. “They need support to help them parent during cancer.”

The Denver-based Children’s Treehouse Foundation created CLIMB, which stands for “Children’s Lives Include Moments of Bravery.” Although the support group is new to Pittsburgh, more than 100 locations across the country have successfully implemented CLIMB.

Byrnes describes some of the many reasons why parents and their kids need support during the battle with cancer: There are dramatic shifts at home, roles change, the parent loses time with their children — due to doctor’s appointments, treatments and the need for extra rest — and kids experience complex emotions that they may not know how to understand or express.

CLIMB addresses all of these areas and more. During the weekly sessions, children are divided into age-appropriate groups of peers to participate in art and play activities that help normalize their feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear and anger. CLIMB also helps to support communication of these feelings, increases the child’s knowledge about cancer, and facilitates communication between the parent and child.

One of the more unique elements of the program is opportunity for “medical play.” Kids will get to explore real and pretend medical equipment, and tour areas of a medical center, including the oncology clinic and radiation therapy. “(Medical play) helps the kids understand what their parents are experiencing,” Byrnes says, “and clears up any misconceptions the child may be having about the parent’s treatment.”

CLIMB begins later this month at the UPMC CancerCenter at UPMC Passavant-McCandless, and like all of the Our Clubhouse programs, it’s free to all families needing support. Byrnes says Our Clubhouse plans to start more locations throughout the region if the initial program is successful.

For more information or to sign a child up for CLIMB, contact Krista Burgbacher at, or call 412-338-1919.