How You Can Help a Family After a Childhood Cancer Diagnosis

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Helping a family after a childhood cancer diagnosis can seem daunting.  Here are 5 ways you can help. 

By: Trish Adkins

The day that Matteo was diagnosed with a rare kidney cancer was an ordinary day. His father, Alfred, left for work knowing that Kimberly, Matteo’s mother, was taking Matteo to the pediatrician for what seemed to be a typical GI issue.  It was, by all accounts, a regular day in the life of a family with a toddler.

A few hours later, Alfred got Kimberly’s call to come to the ER because Matteo had a mass on his kidney. 

An ordinary day became diagnosis day. 

On that day, Kimberly and Alfred had endless questions for doctors: What is the plan? Where will Matteo be treated? What is Matteo’s prognosis? 

Their support system was also left wondering what they could do to help Matteo’s family navigate childhood cancer.

“We were so incredibly fortunate to have a great support system when Matteo was diagnosed. It was extremely hard juggling cancer with three other children at home,” said Kimberly. “Childhood cancer is the hardest journey we've been on. But we are still trucking along with smiles—in large part because of the support system we have.”

Helping a family after a childhood cancer diagnosis can seem daunting.  Here are 5 ways you can help:

1. Feed Them (but ask first)
Don't automatically send a lasagna. But do find out what meals might be helpful to a family. In the early days of diagnosis, no one may be home to eat, but as the days of treatment go on, an organized food plan can provide respite and comfort. 

“A local pizzeria overheard Matteo’s diagnosis and his love for pizza. Every Friday for six months during treatment, they delivered pizza to our home. It was so helpful and generous.  I didn’t have to worry about cooking after chemotherapy,” said Kimberly. 

You can also consider going beyond prepared dinners and arranging for online grocery delivery of staples and snacks, so the family always has something to grab in a pinch.

2. Help Around the House
Treatment takes families away from home and their routine. When there are children at home, this can disrupt their regular school and activity schedules. Friends and family can organize coverage for carpools, laundry, lawn cutting, dog walking and other household activities. 

3. Organize On-Call Support
The life of a childhood cancer family is one with constant interruptions and schedule changes. Clinic appointments might run late or a fever might send them racing to the ER. Friends and family can organize an on-call support network that can be available at a moment’s notice to stay with siblings at home or help with whatever is needed. 

"My mother-in-law jumped right in without hesitation. She took care of our other children which allowed us to focus on Matteo during hospital stays. She was always on call in the middle of the night if we needed her because we had to rush Matteo to the emergency room,” said Kimberly. 

4. Focus on Siblings 
Siblings feel the impact of a childhood cancer diagnosis, too. Their normal routines shift to make room for hospital stays and treatment appointments. Siblings may feel scared, isolated or left out. Friends and families can pitch in and help siblings feel cared for by lending an ear, sending cards and small thoughtful gifts.

Matteo’s brother Christopher was 10 at the time of his brother's diagnosis. His elementary school rallied around Christopher. Every Friday, teachers wore #TeamTeo t-shirts to show their support. 

“If things were rocky at home, I knew that Christopher could go to school and leave those worries behind and just be a kid in a safe environment that the school staff created for him,” said Kimberly.

5. Keep Reaching Out
A new cancer diagnosis is overwhelming and scary, and no family should feel as if they’re going through it alone. Often there is an outpouring of love, support and offers of assistance in the beginning and families might say they don’t need anything. However, this is a time when families cannot process or imagine what they’re going to need. 

So, keep reaching out. Someone new to this may not realize exactly when they will need you—but they will always need your support.

Give Kids Cures this Giving Tuesday 
It is up to us to on #GivingTuesday to be part of the solution and fund innovative, breakthrough research that helps kids get cures. All Giving Tuesday donations to Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation add up to momentous support for childhood cancer families. You can get involved NOW by setting up a Giving Tuesday Facebook fundraiser in support of Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation. On Giving Tuesday, December 3, you can also make a direct donation to ALSF! All donations through December 3, will be matched by Power Home Remodeling.