Beads of Courage

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Beads of Courage

Helping children with cancer fight their fears

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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It is hard to live with a cancer diagnosis, especially if you are a child. You may not even know what is wrong; all you understand is the scary, painful treatments and the hospitalizations. Everyone hopes you will be brave — and cooperative. But do they know how difficult that is? Some people do, and now there is a concrete way to show it and build on the resources that children do have.

The idea originated with Sharon Gove, MSW, in Canada; but in the United States, Beads of Courage is the work of Jean Baruch, RN, BSN, Ph.D(c). Every time a child undergoes a surgery, a procedure or hospitalization, a reward is given in the form of a colorful bead — different colors for different experiences. These beads eventually result in a necklace, which becomes a keepsake of the child’s victory over fear. Oftentimes they’re 500 beads long, and a purple heart represents completion. If a child does not survive, parents receive a butterfly memento. Bead makers donate their work, and staff nurses implement the program with other team members.

It costs about $4,500 to set up Beads of Courage, including training, and about $1,500 a year for supplies. Some nurses sponsor it themselves with bake sales; and it is a modest amount for a hospital auxiliary.

To see examples of the beautiful and intricately designed beads, or to read about the program details and research that shows the worth of this “resilience-based intervention,” check out    

Beads of Courage will soon be expanding to cover children with other critical illnesses, such as hematologic disorders and pulmonary disease.   

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