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Kids Kicking Cancer: Helping kids cope with pediatric illness

Written by Ashley Rule, Chief Marketing Officer & Cindy Cohen, Global Program Director at Kids Kicking Cancer

In 1999, Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg started Kids Kicking Cancer with 10 cancer patients from Children’s Hospital of Michigan. This pilot was in response to the amazing benefits he found that marital arts meditation and breathing techniques have for those in great pain and stress. Since then, Kids Kicking Cancer has expanded from servicing only pediatric cancer patients into the creation of the Heroes Circle, an initiative dedicated to lowering the pain and stress of children, teens and young adults with sickle cell, hemophilia, GI issues, organ transplants and many other pediatric illnesses. Today, we serve children and families in twenty-one U.S. states and within ten different countries.

Thanks to our continued partnership with The Children’s Foundation, the Heroes Circle made the great pivot of 2020, offering cost-free therapeutic martial arts classes virtually.

A New Class Offering

The therapeutic model of the Heroes Circle is non-contact martial arts. Paired with meditative breathing, mindfulness and movement, our students learn the tools to self-regulate when they encounter stress or are experiencing a pain crisis.  From dance parties to movie nights, our Martial Arts Therapists (MATs) have also perfected the art of connecting and reaching kids on screen. We’ve even added components like scavenger hunts to help keep families engaged when participating in our virtual classes.

When our hospital-based students are having a tough time during treatments, or they just want to connect with their classmates, we connect to them virtually. Students don’t have to miss out – they can join class straight from their hospital bed. Interventions such as power breathing and our body scans can still be used during chemo infusions, or radiation.
As a result of the ongoing pandemic, we’ve gotten creative with our annual celebrations, offering drive-thru events that ensure safety and social distancing. Our Annual Belting Ceremony, hosted in June, was an opportunity for out kids to see their hard work pay off as they have been working all year to acquire new skills and techniques to move on to their next belt level.

The ease of virtual programming has also allowed us to partner with pediatric oncology camps in Michigan and throughout the U.S., teaching virtual martial arts classes as part of camp sessions. This past summer we led 57 camp sessions at 17 pediatric oncology camps, reaching families throughout the state.

With the support of The Children’s Foundation, we have been able to grow our Heroes Circle community offerings, providing supportive services (like transportation, food delivery and assistance with bills) to families every step of the way.

“The techniques that they teach empower the children to face the many challenges of their treatments, and the other programming wraps around the entire family. The entire team is supportive and caring. We couldn’t have been introduced to a better second family.”

Martial Arts Super Power Kit

Thanks to support from The Children’s Foundation we share our Martial Arts Super Power Kits with children in partnering hospitals and during home visits. This kit is free to hospitals and families, thanks to this support. Families can use their activity books to reinforce their martial arts techniques and practice for those times they might need a poke or are experiencing a pain crisis. We also offer mini martial arts class videos that can be played for hospitalized patients or viewed on social media.

I think our parents say it best when talking about the impact that Kids Kicking Cancer has on their families.

“This organization goes above and beyond to help children with debilitation illnesses learn to manage the pain and anxiety brought on by their health issues and the associated treatments while also providing the children with a sense of normalcy, control, and a social group of peers experiencing similar situations. They are amazing!”

“We currently live in a space of continued specialists, pokes, and MRI’s praying this can slow down for her. But walking next to those challenges, is Kids Kicking Cancer. My daughter has been able to realize she is not alone in these battles. Kids Kicking Cancer has connected us to a community and taught her bravery and skill through power breathing.”

If you know of a child who could benefit from our program visit us at or email us at [email protected].

Join Kids Kicking Cancer in November

On November 3-4, 2021, the Heroes Circle is hosting our 3rd Virtual Psychosocial Palliative Care Conference, sponsored by The Children’s Foundation. This conference will bring together experts in the field of pediatric cancer, sickle cell, palliative care medicine and first-hand accounts of living with cancer. We welcome you to join us by visiting to register.

Help us improve the health and wellness of more children and families.

You can help us reach more children and families by making a gift to The Children’s Foundation. Click here to make your gift.

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