Five years ago, a dragon flew into the life of Montserrat Coughlin Kim and her family.
Her husband, George Kim, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at the age of 44.
“It really caught us off guard,” Coughlin Kim recalled.
The couple’s two daughters, Kerala and Nola, were 10 and 6 years old respectively at the time of diagnosis.
The Montclair resident found herself looking for books and advice to help her daughters understand what was going on with their father, but she wasn’t happy with what she found.
Now she also wants to help other families who are battling the cancer dragon. She wrote a children’s picture book called “My Father and the Dragon”, with illustrations by professional illustrator Rebekah Cheresnick.
It is published under the auspices of When a Dragon Comes LLC, the company Coughlin Kim started to publish the book, and she hopes to use proceeds from the book to create a foundation to help cancer patients and their families. .
Her husband, who died in 2019, was the easiest man to live with, Coughlin Kim said, but there were times when the battle with cancer led to a complete change in his personality: he became overworked or overly anxious. .
“I started calling cancer ‘the dragon of cancer,'” she said.
Coughlin Kim has a professional background in social work. She wanted to find something that would help her daughters cope with all that was going on.
But she said she couldn’t find any book that really met her family’s specific needs. Online searches on sites like Amazon found lots of children’s books about mothers with cancer, particularly breast cancer, but few books in which the father had cancer.
The following year, the COVID-19 pandemic began. So in addition to mourning the loss of a husband and father, they now had to deal with the upheaval caused by the pandemic and school closures. It was especially difficult for her youngest daughter, who regretted not being able to go to school in person and see her friends and teachers.
The book took two years from start to finish, Coughlin Kim said, from settling the final version to designing and printing the book.
The process included taking fairly large and complex topics and talking about them in language and concepts that children would understand.
Kim was still alive and undergoing treatment at the time the concept for the book was discussed. “He was so okay,” Coughlin Kim recalled.
When the first copy of the finished book arrived, Kerala took a video of her mother opening the package and taking out the book.
Today, Kerala is 15 and a freshman at Montclair High School, and Nola is 11 and a sixth grader at Buzz Aldrin Middle School. Both girls are doing well, Coughlin Kim said. She added that the girls had worked with therapists and counsellors.
“We can do more to help parents talk to their children,” she said. For children, she wants the message to be, “It’s OK. You can tell your mom or dad or your caregiver.