Friendly help for cancer kids


Around 300,000 children a year are diagnosed with cancer and, for many of them, it’s a scary and confusing experience. The procedures and treatments — even the vocabulary of cancer — are unfamiliar and intimidating, and there’s nobody much outside of the medical system to answer their questions in language they can understand.

Or there wasn’t, until the Imaginary Friend Society was launched last year by RPA on behalf of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. At yesterday’s RPA session, Roof Studio’s Crystal Campbell and RPA’s Jason Sperling told delegates how 22 animated films featuring an imaginary cast of characters have been helping young cancer suffers to better understand their diagnosis, reduce their fear and anxiety — and win RPA two Gold Lions at this year’s Festival.
Through the films, the children’s imaginary friends explain a range of complicated cancer topics, including initial diagnosis, blood transfusions, chemotherapy, feeling sad, feeling tired, keeping in touch with friends and returning to school. The concept sprung from RPA’s conversations with children suffering from cancer, many of whom said they had imaginary friends who had helped them through.  
RPA then approached its partners and other animators, asking if they would help with the project — pro bono. “The response was phenomenal,” Sperling said.

The films have been greeted with enthusiasm by both families and the medical profession. They have also been translated into more than a dozen languages, and the characters turned into dolls, posters and colouring books. The project, Sperling said, was a truly “global labour of love”. Campbell, whose company Roof studio worked on the film to explain MRI equipment, said the Imaginary Friend Society blended “benevolence, intelligence, humour and imagination”.

Harriet Palmer