Asthma Pals: The Second Round
Last year, I wrote about my experiences mentoring children with asthma in a program called Asthma Pals. Asthma Pals is run by Asthma Canada and facilitated by two young-adult peer mentors—myself and Arianne, who also leads Allergy Pals with Food Allergy Canada. With eight-ish hours of mentoring behind me from the 2017 edition, I was a lot more relaxed about mentoring this time around, making the sessions even more fun.
Kids are awesome—kids with asthma are extra awesome
I have no idea what it is about the kids we end up with in our groups for Asthma Pals, but they are consistently awesome (maybe it’s an asthma trait ;)). Last year, it was session 8 when kids were saying “I’m happy I got to meet kids who understand what it’s like to have asthma, and have friends from all across Canada”.
People, this year, they were saying that on week one.
Our kids this year crowdsourced their group name—the Strong Corgi Lucky Lung All Star Club—now THAT is teamwork (and a mouthful I had to work all session to memorize!). They opened up throughout the sessions about their asthma in a way that was really real, and in a genuine way that only kids can do things. Together, they learned the things they have in common, the problems we ALL navigate with asthma (yup, even us grown-up mentors!): they felt less alone in their circumstances. Many of them not knowing others in real life with asthma, they got to know a small group of other kids who knew what was up—“me, too” resonated, and it is powerful.
My highlights as a mentor
Going in to round two, there were certain sessions I was really excited for. I have three favorite sessions: the “asthma sleepover”, themed to the current group—in this case, “Let’s go on a Corgi Asthma Sleepover!”—which is a problem-solving skill session; the sports and exercise session; and the feelings about asthma session. I, unfortunately, missed the feelings about asthma session being on a plane between LAX and MSP!
Exercise was a thing these kids had locked down. I loved that they were able to share their successes with each other. They spoke of running, one of them training for a 5K run, and how they navigate their asthma. They spoke of soccer and playing outdoors with their families. They spoke of gymnastics, of playgrounds, of things all kids do, including kids with asthma, who hadn’t really considered asthma to be a barrier, only strategies to make things work. The kids talked nonchalantly about having to take breaks sometimes during sports or physical activity, and sounded like they truly embraced it as just a thing they had to do to stay healthy—not a thing that made them different—um, hello, I need to work on that one! They discussed athletes with asthma, and musicians—yes, one kid got really excited when I told her singer-songwriter P!nk has asthma, too, and yes that happened in the sports session! (Turns out, she’s not just a runner, but a pretty darn solid singer-songwriter and ukulele player herself!)
I also loved discussing strategies with these kids for remembering to take their puffers and the creative ideas they had—they really liked my suggestion for using post-it notes. They also decided on trusted people in their lives, like parents and grandparents, older siblings and teachers, who they could ask to help them remember things around their asthma, as well as who they could trust if they needed help or someone to talk to. One week, their mission (weekly assignment!) was to survey the trusted family and other adults, such as coaches, they’d identified as people they could turn to for help, and ask those adults about what they do when they are feeling negative emotions, such as frustration, anger, or sadness. They shared the strategies with the group and decided on which strategies the kids felt they could take on themselves when dealing with negative feelings.
A good refresher
For me, Asthma Pals is empowering, too. As I watch my mentees growing more and more confident in their ability to manage asthma, I also pick up new strategies for not just teaching others about asthma but navigating my own asthma, too. While I don’t have as much support as these kids do, it highlights for me that it is okay to ask for help and that we all need to lean on someone else from time to time, especially when dealing with a chronic disease like asthma.
And of course, I’m happy that we can be a part of giving these kids the tools they need to stumble less and live fully more—and reinforcing that, as the participants said frequently, “You can do anything with asthma, as long as you take care of yourself and do what you have to do to stay healthy.”
These kids are just going to keep growing up to be more and more awesome, and more and more resilient. Watch out, world.