Work with People with Life Threatening Illnesses


Work with People with life-threatening illnesses, and issues of grief and bereavement

Wolf + Water have worked with both children and adults looking at these delicate themes.

We have a long history of working with children with life threatening or life limiting conditions – mainly, but not exclusively, cancer and leukemia working alongside hospitals and national charities such as CLIC Sargent and the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Projects with such groups face complex issues. Any such condition not only has a massive impact upon the child in question, but their parents and siblings as the whole wider family organisation unexpectedly changes axis to deal with the requirements for treatment.

The course of treatment is a battle in a series of stages that can be full of hope and fear – a whole new world of “kimo”, “wiggles”, and “remission” – though at the end of the day, the ill child is just that – still a child – who might suddenly be faced with being labelled as “different” or “special”, and with the prospect of not being able to take part in the normal activities that they once enjoyed. For older children, physical changes to the body can have major psychological impacts.

Wolf + Water are able to work with all but the frailest of young people, creating scenarios where each & every person can play a part, regardless of their physical difficulties or shyness.

For some of the people we have worked with, sadly, we have had to deal with issues of death and the prospect of moving on, and have gone on to work with siblings and other family members as part of this huge transition and complex journey through grief.

Our work in this area has included drama, music, visual arts, and film making in the form of workshops, residential weekends and more longer termed projects.

Issues addressed have included bereavement, sibling rivalry, physical change, school & community challenges – or have just been about providing respite by giving people a fun creative time that is suited to participants limitations.

I appreciated the teams’ sensitivity with the youngsters, encouraging to participate but not forcing them when they were really reluctant to join in, with the result that a lot of the youngsters surprised both them & their parents

Lots of images from the weekend that you & your colleagues organised so brilliantly will stay with me; a testament to the impact of care & thought that went into creating the weekend


Some of our past Projects

“Hello Cancer…..Arrrrrggggh!!!”  – A Cancer Comic Book – 2008, Exeter, Devon, UK

This was a project at the Force Cancer centre working with two youngsters who were currently in treatment for cancer, there brothers, sisters and parents to create a “comic book” about all the various “chapters” of their experiences – from diagnosis and getting to understand what cancer is, the various treatments they were undergoing, all the changes their illness had caused them and their families, and all the feelings involved.

The book is designed to be an interactive workbook that can be used by other children (5 – 14 year olds), who can read the experience of these two families, but with spaces to add their own drawings and thoughts about their own experiences of facing a life threatening illness – the basic premise being that while there are a lot of similarities, everyone’s response to facing cancer is unique and personal with no one “right way”.

The book has been distributed to hospitals nationally. Copies are available on request.


The Leukemia Weekends

Back in 1989, Wolf + Water (then the “Common Sense Project”) began its first collaboration with the Royal Devon & Exeter Wonford Hospital in running an annual residential weekend for children with cancer & leukemia.

For the next 15 years, this work became an annual part of the Wolf + Water calender and expanded through the help of BBC Children in Need to cover hospitals across the South West region, working with children with cancer & leukemia, their siblings and families, as well as developing work with children with other life threatening illnesses too.

The residential weekends brought young people into fantastical worlds where anything was possible. Strange characters encouraged the young people to use their energy and imagination to help solve mysterious scenarios using a whole host of arts techniques ranging from drama & dance to printing making & pottery.

Each weekend was especially designed in consultation with CLIC Sargent Social Workers and Consultant Psychologists to address the pertinent issues for each particular group – it might be grief, physical changes due to treatment, fear, being “different” because of being ill, or coming to terms with the fact that in many ways, life will never be the same again.

Whether it was helping the (not so) famous & (even less) talented El Ploppo acrobatic troupe find their missing sister, or helping the strange old sea dog Captain Hesperus to discover who has been stealing objects from his museum and why, all the scenarios that Wolf + Water presented to the young people were carefully crafted to allow them to explore and address pertinent issues to their conditions – such as loss, grief, sibling rivalry and “being different or special” – in a safe & creative way, allowing children and their families to encounter their own fears & strengths, their capacity for sharing both laughter & tears.

Always great fun, intensely moving and utterly exhausting, the weekends both allow for very ill young people just to be children again, provide opportunities of a different type of involvement (or respite) for parents and, with drama, music, film, art, puppetry, pottery, making things & dance, are solid good creative fun. Some specific weekends are detailed below.


“Doctor Who?!?” Weekends – 2006 – Devon, UK

The children were invited by RATTPOO (Research Into Alien Time Travel Project Organisation Operation – who appear to be a UFO contact group investigating paranormal activity in the area. RATTPOO is though a cover for the plans of Doctor Yes, who is secretly very ill and has plotted to steal Doctor Who’s TARDIS, not only so he can go back in time again & feel well, but to be reunited with his long dead wife. The children helped the stranded Doctor once his TARDIS was stolen and uncovered Doctor Yes’s deceit, & then help him to face the challenges of both the past & the future…

Exactly what I have come to expect from Wolf+ Water, barking, but bl…..dy marvellous!


Dogwarts Comprehensive School of Witchcraft & Wizardry – 2004

This year the young people aged from five to fourteen found themselves enrolled at Dogwarts School of Witchcraft (the comprehensive school version of Hogwarts) in which the Headmaster, Professor Mumblebore is facing a problem – magic no longer seems to be working in the school (not even David Blaine nor Derren Brown who’ve also arrived for the course seem to be able to do anything..) and with an imminent inspection from the Ministry of Magic, is closure inevitable…?

Over the course of the weekend, using drama, music, puppets, video, painting, mask making & sculpture the young people managed to create a convincing recreation of magic to save the school, but were also through the themes of loss of power, dealing with decline & yet retaining hope, were able to explore some of the pertinent issues around their own situations.

I just wanted to say thanks to all involved in the weekend for making it a quite remarkable experience

…very successful…. The children all got very engrossed… the ending around loss and moving on was very powerful and a really excellent twist


“The CRAP Weekend” – 1999

On arrival the children & their families were greeted by the strange site of a hippy encampment spreading across the Beaford Centre gardens. This is the temporary home of CRAP (the Campaign for the Return of Abba & Peace), a strange but harmless cult believing that world peace will occur only when the 70’s Swedish Supergroup Abba are returned to earth by aliens who they believe have abducted them! In fact some strange aliens do actually arrive in human form, but gradually become more & more ill as they cannot survive in the human atmosphere. The task of the weekend becomes how to save these aliens & return them to their home – which explored on a fantastic level what conditions, physical, pyschological & “spiritual” are inherent in fighting a potentially life threatening disease & hopefully eventually embarking on the road to recovery, & how to cope when sometimes, sadly, that journey is not completed.

One father to whom the whole weekend was initially a completely alien experience & not “his thing” at all, was extremely pleased that he had done it & was quite amazed at himself & hopes that his family is included again


Part of Us Forever – 2003

An hour long film made with teenagers who have or have had cancer & leukemia & who wanted to create a film about their experiences that might help other young people in a similar position. Covering all aspects of the illness, from diagnosis, through treatment, through the effects on family & personal lives & through to recovery…or sometimes death – & reflecting on how the experience has changed them profoundly.

It is a funny, entertaining & touching film that is available from our online shop & is being used nationwide. So, come & meet Cancer the Clown (who only young people with cancer can see), find out what happens when your vomit goes radioactive, how many people you can stand asking you how you are before you resort to violence & sample the delights of Radiotherapy FM…

Copies are available on DVD


Conferences, Consultancy & Training

Wolf & Water has also devised and performed bespoke performances for many professional conferences, using audience interactive theatre to explore some of the difficult practical & ethical dilemmas facing staff working with issues of bereavement or life threatening conditions have to negotiate in their work.
Some examples include:

Sargent Cancer Care National Conference – Birmingham – 2000

An especially devised audience interactive performance depicting the difficult challenges that Sargant Social workers face in dealing with people with cancer & leukaemia & their families – issues included denial, publicity & refusal of treatment.

Personal thanks for the terrific contribution that you all made to the Conference. The presentation had a fantastic impact on staff, raising many painful issues in a way that had great immediacy, as well as creating much laughter. The feedback from all sides was tremendous

Marie Curie Cancer Care Trust Conference – London 2000

An especially commissioned & devised performance on the difficult & sensitive issue of child bereavement, as part of this large national conference. Covering themes as diverse as suicide & terminal illness, the piece explored the emotional & psychological responses of both children & adults to death, shock, grief & bereavement.

Thank you for your wonderful, thoughtful contribution to the day

“Living, Dying, Living” North Devon Hospice Conference – Devon 2003

One of our most difficult commissions ever – to create a thirty minute show that explored cultural attitudes to death for this great conference organised by North Devon Hospice. Our show, hosted by Death itself, followed the stories of four characters – a woman who takes her own life, a teenager who goes missing, an older woman diagnosed with dementia & a young man diagnosed as being HIV Positive, & followed both their own relationships to death & the impact that that has on those around them. Even by our own standards a pretty powerful piece & it was certainly perhaps the one piece of theatre that we have had the most ever response to. At the end of the performance a ten minute unscheduled break was announced to allow people time to collect themselves before the conference continued…

I am writing to thank you officially for the superb performance you devised for our conference…It demonstrated such insight…& very sensitively illustrated the impact of dying & bereavement in a range of different experiences. Please convey my heartfelt thanks to the actors

SPoCC Conference – Birmingham – 2004

An especially commissioned performance for this conference of parents of & professionals with young people with cancer & leukaemia. Our show took the audience through the journeys of a couple of families & their children from diagnosis through treatment & in some cases recovery, in some cases relapse & in some cases death, in a performance that was funny as it was moving, we hope. In addition to our performance, our “Part of Us Forever” film made with teenagers with cancer & leukaemia from Devon was shown as part of the conference, & we also ran a workshop exploring how drama techniques can be used to help young people & families explore the complex issues around life threatening illnesses.

Wolf + Water played a large part in the National Conference being such a success. Without exception, your sensitive production was well received; indeed without it the conference would have been SO much poorer

“The Waiting Room” –  North Devon Hospice Dissolving Boundaries Conference – Devon – 2005

This was the especially commissioned opening performance for this two day international conference exploring issues around death & dying, & looked at the complex & shifting relationships between the patient, the family carer & the professional. This was followed up with a workshop on using drama with people with life limiting conditions.

Thanks for an outstanding performance at our conference

Are you getting fed up with people telling you how brilliant you were yet?!



Training in working with children with life-threatening illnesses

Wolf + Water can provide training for artists & staff in developing arts based more child friendly approaches in working with young people with life threatening illnesses.

Techniques that the Company can provide training in include:

  • drama
  • music & sound
  • movement & dance
  • puppets of all shapes & sizes
  • shadow puppets
  • simple printing techniques
  • 2D & 3D arts techniques
  • working with video, film & digital media

The training in these techniques is specifically geared to working with young people who may have both restricted energy & movement due to their condition, & on how to use techniques as a way of exploring pertinent issues with individuals, groups & families.

In terms of issues Wolf + Water provide a generic training course “Using Creative Techniques with Young People with Life Threatening Illnesses” as well as in working with more specialised topics such as bereavement.

Thank you for two inspirational workshops which were also such fun. All the feedback was positive