Nine-year-old Lydia Massiah loves to run and jump around with her twin sister, Veronica, but playing hasn’t come easily for her.
“Lydia was seven months when she was diagnosed with a very rare pediatric brain cancer,” said Angela Massiah, Lydia’s mom.
The little girl no longer suffers from cancer, but the disease and the treatment she received so early in life has left her with long-term side effects.
“Definitely cognitive,” Massiah said. “She’s very delayed in her speech and she’s partially blind, as well.”
According to Calgary charity Kids Cancer Care, 75 per cent of pediatric cancer survivors live with permanent side effects. But research has shown physical activity can help.
The problem is, many children with cancer miss out on learning how to play.
“Basically they don’t have the skills,” said Carolina Chamorro, a PhD student who also works with Kids Cancer Care.
“They don’t know how to run, how to jump and then when they come back to the community and they want to play with their peers, they feel they don’t fit.”
That’s why Chamorro, along with researchers at the University of Calgary’s Health & Wellness Lab, developed the PEER program.
PEER stands for Pediatric cancer survivors Engaging in Exercise for Recovery. Launched in 2012, the program designs specialized activities for children ages four to 18 years old who have experienced cancer. Siblings are welcome to attend, as well, and Lydia attended the program alongside her twin sister, Veronica.
“It was a place where they could go together and start learning. Carolina started incorporated Lydia’s physio into fun activities,” Massiah said.
When Lydia started exercising with the program, she was using a walker to get around. Three years later, her mother says she now has the confidence to try new activities.
“She’s graduated into downhill skiing with Rocky Mountain adaptive skiing and specialized tap dance and a variety of swimming activities. Whatever she can participate in, she goes for.”