Helping families living with childhood cancer
Your support can make a big difference to a family going through childhood cancer. There are many different ways you can help. Think about the whole family. Everyone is affected by a cancer diagnosis and each family member may need something different and may cope differently.
Starting a caring group
If you know the family well, you may want to start a caring group. A caring group is an organized way for your wider community to support the family. You could ask friends, neighbours, extended family, church members, co-workers, other parents or fellow team members from sport or recreation groups and other parents from school to get involved.
A caring group is only as good as its point person. This person should know the family well, have a good relationship with the family and be in direct contact with the family. The point person checks with the family to see what kinds of help they need and then organizes and coordinates the many people who want to help.
If you’re a point person, you may want to start by holding a meeting to start things off. Invite anyone who wants to help the family to come. At the meeting, talk about what the family needs and what things you might do to help each member of the family. Choose someone to be in charge of each of the major areas of help, including cooking, shopping, carpooling or child care for siblings, housecleaning and fundraising. It’s also important to choose a method of communicating with each other, whether by email, phone or text.
Most families find it very useful to have help with meals. By setting up a cooking schedule you can have meals delivered regularly to the family. Some families may like food every day. Others may only want meals 2 or 3 times a week. It is also important to let people know how the family would like to receive the food. They may not always be home. You may leave it in a cooler by the door if no one is home. They may not wish to be disturbed or they may appreciate the person dropping in to say hello when they bring the food. There are some websites that can help in organizing meals and offer tips and recipes: takethemameal.com, mealtrain.com and foodtidings.com.
Specific ways you can help
Think about the family that you want to help. The best thing you can do is be specific when you offer help. If you are not sure what to offer, try to imagine what you would need if you were in a similar situation. Would it be nice to come home to a clean house and folded laundry? Would you have enough energy to cut the grass? Some popular ways to help include:
- Offer to do the laundry, clean the house or water the plants.
- Have a work bee to do the yard work, cut the grass or tend the garden.
- Shovel sidewalks and driveways.
- Look after the family pets.
- Offer to get groceries – shop for food that is easy to prepare or already prepared. Be careful about the amount of fresh food that you buy – the family may not be home enough to eat it before it spoils.
- Arrange to drive siblings to and from their after-school activities or to the hospital to visit their brother or sister.
- Offer to have the siblings spend the night at your place with your children, or invite the siblings to be part of fun activities with your family to help them feel included and wanted.
- Take a movie or game to the hospital and offer to sit with the child so that the parents can take a break or spend time with their other children.
- Buy a parking pass, prepaid phone cards or vouchers for food venues in the hospital for the parents.
- Visit the hospital just to sit with the parents. You may not have to say too much – just being there says more than words sometimes can.
- When bringing gifts, try to think of something that would be permitted in the hospital that fits the child’s personality – creative thinking is always welcome and appreciated. Also try to think of the siblings as well. Some ideas include magazines, puzzles, DVDs, toys and art supplies.
- Keep in contact with the child, parents and family, if not through visiting, then by phone, cards, letters and emails – just the fact that you took the time to write is support in itself. But don’t expect a lot of contact in return.
- Provide a listening ear. Ask the parents, child and siblings how they are doing. Be supportive and caring and provide love, compassion and positive energy.
- Offer your skills to the family. For example, if you are an accountant, offer to help do their taxes or talk over finances. Or you could offer computer support or help with keeping up a blog or social media page.
- Update the family on things going on in the child’s classroom or school activities.
- Organize a fundraising event in the community to help cover expenses that arise during this time.
- Support the siblings who are at home – ask them how they are doing and really listen to their replies.
- Send fun mail to the siblings to make them feel special.
- Donate frequent flyer miles or AIR MILES to distant friends or family members who have the time to help out but not the money to travel.
Great progress has been made
Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.