Written By: Kathy Glow @ Kissing the Frog
According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is the second leading cause of death in children younger than 15 years old (after accidents). About 12,060 children in the United States under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with cancer in 2012, and of those, about 1,340 children are expected to die from it.
Despite the fact that childhood cancer rates have been rising slightly for the past few decades, pediatric cancers make up less than 1% of cancers diagnosed each year. Because of major treatment advances in recent decades, about 80% of children with cancer now survive 5 years or more, depending on the type of cancer.
The statistics sound promising, except when you think about the fact that 1,340 families will have to bury a child this year.
And that is 1,340 too many.
In 2010, my family was one of 90 families in Nebraska who lost a loved one to brain cancer. That loved one was our son, Joey, who was just six years old (which is the average age most children are diagnosed with cancer). If you are not familiar with our story, you can read it here or here.
Most of us, thankfully, have never had to face the cancer beast personally. But most of us have heard of other families receiving the dreaded cancer diagnosis. Beyond “thoughts and prayers,” we feel there is little we can do.
Sometimes, though, a little goes a long way.
Here are some things you can do to show your love and support for a family facing a cancer battle with their child:
Send a gift card for food, gas or groceries. These families are often running back and forth from doctors’ appointments and treatments. After a long day at the hospital, it’s helpful to pick up food and not have to worry about cooking. And if treatment means travel to a larger city, the gas card comes in handy, as well as access to a quick meal.
Organize meals to be brought into the home. Sites like Meal Train and Take Them a Meal make keeping track of meals a snap. Each participant can see exactly what others brought and when, and there are no phone calls to make. The family can also keep track of what is coming and when.
Volunteer to run errands. All the little things in life become so unimportant when your child is battling cancer. You run out of milk and toilet paper, your shirts sit at the dry cleaners for weeks, and your pet just doesn’t get groomed. If it’s something little that still needs to be done, offer to do it.
If you know the family well enough, show up. Show up at the hospital during treatments to keep the family company or grab them some coffee or lunch. Show up to their house and do some laundry or vacuuming. Take their other children to the park or out for ice cream (they need lots of love and attention during this time, too). Offer to sit with their sick child so they can take a breather. Show up after dinner and clean up the kitchen. Most families hesitate to ask for this kind of help. Just do it for them.
Send cards and e-mails and write on their Caring Bridge page. Some days, the last thing a family battling cancer wants to do is talk on the phone. You can still let them know you care. During some of our darkest days with Joey, we would read a comment on Caring Bridge or get a card in the mail at just the right time to give us some hope or something to smile about. And be okay with not getting a response.
Help organize and attend fund raisers. According to GiveForward.org, the average out-of-pocket cost for a family with a child battling cancer is over $9,700. Even in cases where health insurance is available, expenses can add up quickly.
Spread awareness. September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and September 13th is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Day. Wear a gold ribbon in support of a family battling cancer with their child.
Contact law makers. Let them know that it is not okay that there has only been one new pediatric cancer drug created in the last 20 years.
Donate. There are so many great organizations, too many to list. Just Google and find the one that speaks to you.
This is obviously a cause that is near and dear to my heart, so I’m doing my part to help spread awareness and encourage action. Go to Kids V Cancer, Go Gold, and Alex’s Lemonade Stand for more ideas on what you can do to help save a child’s life.
Our family before our Make-A-Wish Trip in 2009