Sheri Sobrato Brisson knows what it's like to be young and sick.
The long-time Atherton resident was diagnosed with a type of brain cancer thought to be fatal when she was only 24.
Instead of dying after the six months she was told she had left, she recovered, and then changed the course of her life. She went back to school and studied marriage and family counseling and health counseling, earned a degree in psychology, and began working to help sick children and their families.
Now, using much of what she has learned in the years since her recovery, Ms. Sobrato Brisson has, with artist and writer Rose Offner, created "Digging Deep," a journal to help young people with serious health challenges.
The journal is designed for children ages 10 to 18, although Ms. Sobrato Brisson says that "it's for anybody dealing with health challenges in their lives."
Many hospitals and other organizations that work with sick children also carry the journal, and Ms. Sobrato Brisson is arranging to make it available at no cost to any child who wants it.
Ms. Sobrato Brisson, 52, began working on the journal project when she was nearing the 25th anniversary of surviving her cancer. She teamed up with Rose Offen, an artist and author who had written books about journal writing.
For sick children, the journal is "a way not just to get rid of feelings, but actually to process them, to start to understand them," she says. It also allows the child to tell others what they need. "Most people don't know what they need and they don't know what they feel," she says.
"It becomes very empowering for kids to know they are in control of their own story," she says. "When you share, there's really a special power in that."
"Digging Deep" was released in October, but Ms. Sobrato Brisson and Ms. Offner have been sharing with children as they refined it.
One 16-year-old boy whose cancer returned three times told her, "You've given this to the right kid," Ms. Sobrato Brisson says. The boy sat down with the book, and "he didn't stop for two and a half hours. He was writing and writing and writing and writing and writing," she says. "It really showed me ... that he was resonating with it."
Parents have also told her how much they appreciate the book. "Parents have said to me, 'Finally, something to heal my child's heart,'" she says. "They see how relevant it is they get it."
The journal has a series of pages with questions to prompt writing. Half the artwork in the book is by children, with the other half by Ms. Offner.
"Digging Deep" tells children: "Feeling scared or angry when we struggle with an illness is natural. But it's the anger and fear we don't express that can get stuck inside and further depress us. Putting our feelings into words and pictures helps to soothe us."
The book stresses the positive things writing can do: "When we write about a problem that's bothering us, taking the time to reflect and listen, something magical happens; the answers come from within."
At DiggingDeep.org, those interested in sponsoring books for patients or organizations who work with children can make a donation, which can be directed to a specific organization. The book is available for purchase at Amazon.com or IPGBook.com and may also be requested for a sick child through the Digging Deep website.