Dealing with a chronic or life threatening illness can be tough for anyone. But it's especially difficult for children.

To help, a new program has been launched in Saskatchewan aimed at easing the anxiety.

The first of its kind in Canada, the program takes arts and crafts to a new level for kids like Olivia Smood. Olivia has Hodgkin's lymphoma. Since her diagnosis in December, the 6-year-old has undergone countless rounds of tests, chemotherapy, and even surgery.

But this week, she's not worried about the treatment or medicine. Olivia is spending her time making a necklace. Each coloured bead on her jewelry represents a different part of her battle against cancer. "There's a really pretty one and it means courage," says Olivia, "and the black ones mean pokes."

Olivia is one of the first Canadian kids to be a part of the new Bead of Courage program. Children battling life threatening disease or chronic illness receive a new bead for every medical milestone, treatment, and procedure. They also receive a journal to track the beads they earn.

Tammy Lucas, the manager of acute care in the pediatric ward at the Royal University Hospital, says the new program has gone over very well so far. "It's something they can share. They can talk about. It helps them cope. It helps them to feel like they are supported and it even decreases their perception of pain and it's something to look forward to."

The Beads of Courage program was started eight years ago by an oncology nurse in Arizona who wanted a way to help her young patients deal with the emotional side of being sick. Last month, Saskatchewan became the first province in Canada to launch Beads of Courage, with the help of a Saskatoon man who knows what it's like to undergo cancer treatments.

Doug Gillespie underwent cancer treatments of his own last year in Saskatoon. After watching a program on TV about Beads of Courage, he decided to launch a fundraiser to bring the program to Saskatchewan.

"It just fit. It answered all the questions I had," says Gillespie. "The beads were a perfect fit for us."

So far, Gillespie's efforts have helped to raise more than $50,000 to train staff in both Regina and Saskatoon, and to pay for enough beads for months, maybe even years to come.

As for the Smoods, more treatments and procedures are ahead for Olivia. But she and her mom Diana take comfort in knowing each medical milestone will be marked one bead at a time.

"It makes coming for treatment a lot easier. Something to look forward to at the end of treatment," says Diana.

Since Saskatoon started the program, Windsor has also begun to implement the Beads of Courage. It's Gillespie's hope that 10 more hospitals across the country will join in over the next year.