Henry Dancer Days (HDD) was set up in memory of Henry Dancer, who died in 2010, aged just 12, from Osteosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Henry’s mother, Jane, founded the charity in 2012 to support children and young people with cancer and their families. We work with a community that is not defined by geography, status, race or religion. It is defined by a condition; by the shared experiences of children and their families; by the impact that cancer has on the entire extended family; on siblings, friends and colleagues.
Children in cancer undergo poking and prodding, needles, dressings, sickness and physical pain. They are also BORED! This gives them time to worry and often feel worse as all there is to focus on is the unpleasant side of being there.
It is not uncommon for parents to have to give up work to support their child. As a result, the families struggle, financially and emotionally. We look to alleviate the pressures on families and children so that they are better able to face their situation. We do this this a number of ways ways:
We run a hugely successful Storytelling Project in the children's cancer wards at Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and London.
Our professional storytellers work with children and young people (0-18 years) with all forms of cancer, including some for whom English is a second language and some who have other physical problems or learning difficulties. Treatment can be aggressive and can include amputation, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
One-to-one sessions take children away from the reality of their situation into a world of pure imagination; away from painful treatments, boredom, frustration and ever-present anxiety. The storytellers also need to win the trust of families and understand the pain and stresses they are undergoing. As one mother commented, "Diagnosis was difficult enough but she had so much more going on, which meant she wouldn't /couldn't look at nurses, tolerate treatment etc. An Autism diagnosis followed. The only thing that would bring her comfort was stories; the best thing to happen during that very difficult time. As time progresses she’s gained so much confidence. Her face lights up when she sees the storyteller. They have great chats and giggles! It's so lovely to see! I'm sure I speak for many of parents saying that!!”
We carefully measure our success through responses from children, parents and medical staff. In this way we ensure maximum impact and this will help create a case for delivery in hospitals in which we have not yet worked. The positive response to our storytellers is overwhelming:
“I just wanted to say a big thank you for Shelley, she is the gift that keeps on giving. I had to have an in-depth conversation with a parent in clinic yesterday and Shelley very kindly entertained the child with her wonderful storytelling allowing us to discuss some important issues. The child was in pain and the best medicine in that scenario was the wonderful distraction that Shelly provided. Thank you again”.
Sue Carey Clic Sergant Officer, Great North Children’s Hospital, Newcastle
“(she) is very amused by “That’s Not my Bottom”. Big sister wanted more of “Does it Fart?”. The nurse came in to get bloods and she was kept distracted from that process by everyone’s banter about farting and the discovery that jellyfish don’t! Big sister is practicing the words flatulence and anus so she can impress everyone when she goes back to school.
Tracey Collins, Storyteller, Alder Hey Childrens Hospital, Liverpool
“We all love you coming. You brighten our children’s day and their families. You brighten my day”
Playleader, Great North Childrens Hospital, Newcastle
“It gives struggling parents a break too. Some like to watch their child having fun (for once) or take much-needed time out. One Mum said “It’s the first time I’ve had space and time to cry since his diagnosis. This happens often.”
Ursula Holden Gill, Storyteller, Leeds Children's hospital
“ Story-telling is a misunderstood skill. Many people assume that a successful told story depends on the writing. But the way in which the story is told is far more important. A poor narrator can turn the world’s golden stories to dust. The professional is thoroughly prepared so they ‘tell’ the story; they don’t simply ‘read’ it. The difference is enormous. As they are familiar with the narrative they don’t have to focus on the printed page, they can be observing the listeners and their reactions, then adjust the pace and the intonation accordingly. The professional storyteller also has a wider range of narrative material that can be tailored to make tales appropriate to the audience and their environment. They understand that stories are not simply entertainments, but a powerful vehicle for learning and emotional well-being. ‘Reading’ a story aloud is not the same as ‘telling’ a story, and the training and experience of professionals can make the simplest of stories a memorable experience.”
In addition to the unadulterated pleasure that storytelling provides for the children, we have found that many of the parents are aware of the loss of opportunities for language development in hospital, especially for younger siblings, so they actively want their children and their siblings to be included in any language activity. Similarly with children for whom English is a second language.
“The second time I met (him), this time with his mum, older sister and baby sister present (they speak only Arabic) we did another mimed story and his sister joined in, especially with the song, she knew some English. We did a few English nursery rhymes too and his mum then showed me the Arabic childrens’ songs on Youtube, which they listen to, with English translations:
Tracey Collins, Storyteller, Alder Hey Childrens’ Hospital, Liverpool
We have seven storytellers working in the hospitals. Tracey Collins (below left) at Liverpool Children's Hospital, Ursula Holden Gill (centre) at Leeds Children's Hospital, Cassandra Wye (right) at Alder Hey Hospital, Liverpool
Shelley O'Brian (below left)is our ongest serving storyteller at Newcsatle's Great North Childrens' Hospital. and Tara Ellis (centre) tells stoys to the children in the cancer wards at London University Hospital. Carmel Page (below right) is our storyteller at Sheffield Children's Hospital.
Peter Findlay has been telling stories in ManchaesterChildrens' Hospital but has just left us to teach and inspire young children in Scotland.
Developing out of our experience with storytelling we introduced a Pottery Programme in Newcastle’s Great North Children’s Hospital. Designing and creating ceramics again distracts from painful isolation and stimulates the imagination. It gives the young people something to plan, to work on, to give back as gifts to family, friends and medical staff. It empowers them. Until Covid-19 hit, we were looking to extend this and introduced it into other hospitals.
Jo Ratcliffe helps children paint works of art which she fires and returns to them as a keepsake. Both children and parents have told us that the pottery sessions help them to relax and forget where they are for a while. One Mum commented, “It’s something we look forward to every week, if I’m being really honest, it’s the only thing I look forward to being stuck in here so long.” Jo was also Henry’s Godmother – he thought she was great!
We provide grants to children and young people aged under 18 who are undergoing treatment for cancer. The patient and family can use the grant in whichever way they feel is most appropriate and of most benefit to them. To date, we have supported over 500 families
These are just some of their stories:
Ayman was 16 when she was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a bone cancer in her leg. The outlook was not great since 10 tumours were also found in her lungs. She wrote "… it was very hard to look on the bright side and it was even harder to put on a brave face for my parents, family and friends. I was not suffering alone as my mother had to travel a lot to and from Manchester as she also had my siblings to take care of. My illness was not only taking a toll on our family emotionally but also financially.
The money that was donated to me by the incredible people at Henry Dancer Days has helped our family immensely. The financial burden on our family was made lighter and I could also spend some of that money on gadgets and outings with my family.
Donating a small amount of money may seem insignificant but you are helping shine a light of happiness in a incredibly dark and devastating time in someone’s life. You have helped a seriously ill child smile and create happy memories that, unlike our bodies, will forever stand the test of time."
Karen Ledsham lost her son, Harrison, to bone cancer.She wrote to us about the money we provided to enable a trip to London with Harrison:
“It was somewhere Harrison had always wanted to visit but we just hadn’t got round to booking it. Then with his cancer diagnosis and the fact we both stopped working, money was very tight.
Harrison was so excited when we told him we were going to London and started to plan exactly what we were going to do. I told him we needed to get a photo of him at the Thames to send you while we were there. That’s all he talked about, so on the first day we walked down and he had his photo taken at the side of the Thames.We all had a fabulous time in London and we definitely wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t for Henry Dancer Days. It’s so important to have things to look forward to and to have some nice things planned when your child has cancer and we wouldn’t have been able to afford to go if you hadn’t given us the donation.”
Lucie, aged 8 from Newcastle, had just been diagnosed and, like many others in this situation, her family had to stop work to care for her. Expensive hospital costs such as petrol, parking and food were all adding up alongside their usual bills. Our donation not only helped them through this difficult time but also meant they could buy Lucie something to make her happy. Lucie’s thank you card to Jane read…“Thank you for making me rich! My Mummy cried, but I think they were happy tears.”