Gladwyne Teen's Book Helps Kids Understand, Navigate Cancer

GLADWYNE, PA — A cancer diagnosis can throw an adult’s world into a whirlwind. From navigating the complex American healthcare system to dealing with symptoms of the illness and its treatments, battling cancer is a Herculean feat.

But what about young people who have loved ones dealing with cancer?

Gladwyne’s Ethan Niu was thrust into that situation about several years ago when his mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

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Niu told Patch he was away at a camp that year when his parents came to take him for a weekend hotel stay in 2019. That’s when a mass was found in his mother’s breast.

Just 13 years old at the time, the now senior at Harriton began poring over research articles about cancer after her diagnosis.

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“Overall, we stayed pretty hopeful,” he said of his family as they delved into the topic that was so new to them.

Niu said his whole family was reading up on cancer treatment research, but his knack for science led him to dig deeper, which led him to report what he learned to the family.

Niu said the family learned of new advancements in chemotherapy that helped them power through his mother’s diagnosis.

Her cancer went into remission, but in 2021 it came back and spread to her nervous system.

Fast-forward to the present, and his mother is cancer free.

But it was those experiences and seeing other young people in similar situations that led him to publish a children’s book that aims to help young people who are experiencing cancer in their families.

“Brave Little Fighters” was officially published on Amazon in July this year.

Written and illustrated by Niu, the 26-page book offers kids information on the science behind cancer and its treatments, as well as what kids can do to help families during trying times brought on by the illness.

“Understanding how it works is a main part of the journey,” Niu said.

Cancer science is rather complex, but Niu’s knowledge from his own research, as well as his time as researcher at the Wistar Institute, allowed him to simplify the meaty science for young audiences.

“I use simple drawing to help explain caner,” he said.

Concepts such as meiosis, mitosis, mutations, and more are laid out through drawings and analogies.

The scientific explanations are important for those experiencing a cancer diagnosis for the first time, but equally important is how to be helpful for those with loved ones diagnosed with cancer.

Niu’s book covers topics such as cooking to help out family members battling cancer.

Another key aspect of Niu’s book is ensuring children that cancer is not anyone’s fault and that it is not contagious, and that changes are inevitable.

The 17-year-old also got some notes from experts on his book.

His mother’s oncologist at the University of Pennsylvania and experts from the University of Michigan helped him revise his manuscript.

In fact, the book is now a recommended resource on the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center’s “Families Facing Cancer” monthly newsletter.

Niu self-published the book through Amazon.

He drew the book’s illustrations on the Procreate app, then uploaded them to Amazon’s self-publishing suite.

After some a few drafts and tweaks to sizing and page counts, Niu hit publish and the book was live on Amazon July 25, 2023.

Over the holidays, Niu launched a campaign that gave out copies of his book for free to people and institutions as a resource.

The book is available at the Gladwyne Free Library and is also on display at the Wistar Institute.

“My family definitely very proud of me for publishing the book,” he said.

The book led to his mother being uplifted by their community, with others reaching out to her to express support.

Even a former fourth grade teacher of his who is battling cancer said the book had a positive impact on her family.

Niu plans to pursue an education in biomedical research with the hope of providing the same care for others that his mother received.

While his authorial career is still budding and the book only available online, Niu said he’s open to getting more copies into brick-and-mortar locations.

Check out “Brave Little Fighters” online here.

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