July 06, 2017

Jon's Tricky Journey: A story for Inuit children with cancer and their families

Written by Patricia McCarthy
Illustrated by Hwei Lim
Inhabit Media
70 pp.
All ages
July 2017

The fact that Patricia McCarthy, a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, wrote this book is a sad reminder that there are many children, including Inuit children, who must endure treatment for cancer. Their childhoods should be filled by play and learning and friends and family and not the medical traumas involved in being diagnosed with and then treated for cancer.  Jon's Tricky Journey, which is both picture book story and resource guide, takes the reader on that journey and provides a compendium of supportive resources for navigating pediatric cancer treatment in the North.

Jon is an Inuit boy who lives with his parents (anaana and ataata) and two siblings and their husky dog Nanuq in Nunavut.  He loves camping, watching the northern lights and hearing stories about his ancestors.
From Jon's Tricky Journey 
by Patricia McCarthy
illus. by Hwei Lim
When Jon starts to feel pains, a visit to the nursing station ends up sending him to the hospital far away south.  Only his anaana goes with him to a land of trees and noise and busyness that made him fearful.  A social worker helps him and his anaana adjust, including finding them a place to stay, while he visits with the oncologist Dr. Lewis who tells him that he has a lump called cancer inside his body.  An operation is needed to remove it and then he'll have to take special medicines.
From Jon's Tricky Journey 
by Patricia McCarthy 
illus. by Hwei Lim
From the nurses and child-life specialists, pharmacists and special visitors, Jon is helped through what he calls his "tricky days," those days when pain, fatigue and homesickness overwhelm him.  (The above art illustrates Jon's trick of thinking happy thoughts, such as camping, to get through episodes of pain.) As he deals with his chemotherapy (a word not used in the story) and becomes more familiar with the routines and the hospital and meeting other children with cancer, Jon begins to appreciate that he is showing strength and resilience, just like his Inuit ancestors.

Patricia McCarthy's intent for this book is to "serve as a source of comfort and useful information for families who find themselves far from home, facing a cancer diagnosis in a strange and sometimes frightening environment." (pg. 37)  Jon's Tricky Journey, the story, is a reassuring depiction of what a child might need to go through when being treated for cancer but that story only takes 34 pages.  The remainder of the picture book lists children's hospitals and cancer treatment facilities and a map of flight paths from Arctic locations to these facilities; navigation and coordination services by region; descriptions of all medical team members; answers to FAQs; the northern pain scale, most appropriate for Inuit children; a glossary; an art project; and additional resources.  Jon's Tricky Journey, brilliantly translated into Inuktitut so that it can be read by all family members, should be available at every treatment centre accommodating Inuit children and their families as well as the nursing stations of their home communities.  By depicting Jon's Inuit life and his oncology journey with simplicity and realism, Malaysian illustrator Hwei Lim ensures that any child of the North dealing with cancer will see himself or herself within the pages. This is as it should be.  Sadly, Jon's Tricky Journey could be the journey of far too many children but, within the pages of this book, there is some solace that it's a journey that is not taken alone.

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