Newswise — "Cancer is a very scary word for children," says nursing researcher Dr. Roberta Woodgate of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. "We want to help them deal with the subject in a way that is most appropriate to them, and at their level."

Woodgate is involved in several research projects that focus on children or teenagers and illness. In one study, she is conducting an ethnographic study of adolescents' conceptualization of cancer and its prevention with a goal of gaining insight into how they frame cancer within the context of their own life-situations. With the trends in incidence and mortality for cancer increasing, Woodgate is developing cancer prevention programs encouraging adolescents to practice healthy behaviors that extend into adulthood. She is also looking to understand how youth frame health within the context of their life-situations.

"Before programs can effectively target adolescents, a detailed understanding of their beliefs about health and cancer prevention is necessary," she notes.

Woodgate is also helping to create an online "virtual world" in which children with cancer can talk with others about their illness and manage symptoms caused by cancer and other chronic diseases. Her study of children's perceptions of their cancer symptoms may lead to methods for assessing symptoms and evaluation of the effectiveness of interventions.

"In addition to helping children take their minds off their illness, they can 'act' and 'react' in a safe and comfortable environment," she says.

Woodgate believes gaming will teach children with chronic diseases how to recognize and manage real-life symptom experiences such as fatigue and pain. The interactive game will represent symptoms in a non-violent story such as travelling through a jungle or a haunted house and encountering challenges, or symptom experiences, and the opportunity and means to meet the challenges. Interviews with seven to 17 year olds will help determine content in separate games for children and teenagers.

"I hope that gaming as an intervention will improve children's symptom assessment and management, and their quality of life. What we learn may improve the experiences of families and professionals," Woodgate says..In her career as a nurse, professor and researcher, Woodgate has been called many things: a pioneer, an academic, a "kids nurse," a mentor to Masters and PhD students and an expert on the health and illness experiences of children and youth. And in February 2008, she was named a "nurse to know" by Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a Canadian Nurses' Association ceremony in Toronto.

Woodgate is also researching the concept of transition in childhood illness and death, and parents' and children's decisions and experiences in childhood clinical research.

"I have always recognized how necessary research is to improving the quality of life for children and their families," says Woodgate.