The Childhood Cancer Blog

How Grandparents Can Help When a Child is Diagnosed with Cancer

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  • David and Frankie with grandson Max.
  • Christine with grandsons John and Jason.
  • Grandma Bee with her grandson Alex.

By: Trish Adkins

 David and Frankie’s grandson Max was just 4 years old when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). 

“We were devastated when we first heard the news about Max’s diagnosis. We couldn’t believe our grandson had somehow contracted this deadly disease,” recalls his grandfather David. 

Grandparents grieve deeply when a grandchild has cancer. They are concerned not only for their grandchild, but also for their own child (the parent). Cancer wreaks havoc with grandparents’ expectations, reversing the natural order of life and death. Grandparents frequently say, “Why not me? I’m the one who is old.” 

For David and Frankie, their devastation quickly turned into activation. 

Many grandparents take on a unique role after diagnosis, providing tremendous emotional, physical and financial support. Grandparents also step up as childhood cancer research advocates, by supporting Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) and in turn, helping other kids, too. 

Meet the hero grandparents, providing support and advocacy through their grandchild’s cancer diagnosis:

1.    David and Frankie
Max, who is now 10-years-old and in remission continues to be a source of inspiration and joy for grandparents David and Frankie. After his diagnosis 6 years ago, David and Frankie became committed to helping Max and his parents get through cancer and treatment as a family. David says the experience drew them closer together and helped them to appreciate the time they spent together. 

“Even though we lived several hours away from Max, we tried to come as often as we could to spend time with Max and to help give a small break to his mom and dad. We visited Max while he was hospitalized and when he went home for an extended recovery period. His positive attitude and playfulness were inspirations to us all. Max lived up to the nickname "Iron Max" that his parents gave him as he fought the terrible foe “Sneaky Leu,” said David. 

Through one of their daughters, David and Frankie discovered ALSF and began fundraising right away. They’ve hosted seven lemonade stands.

David’s advice to other grandparents on this similar journey is to be present and positive:

“Our best advice is to focus your energy on keeping a positive attitude and showing your love both to the person who is recovering and the family that supports them. Time is precious and support of the family is critical for everyone to get through this traumatic event successfully,” said David. 

2.    Grandma Bee
Skydiving was not something Rebecca Byrom had on her bucket list. In fact, her friends and family knew she was terrified of flying. But that’s exactly why she did it.

Her grandson Alex had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma in 2016. His battle was difficult to watch, riddled with endless scans, surgeries and more bad news after another. 

Rebecca, affectionately called Grandma Bee by her grandkids, wanted to honor Alex’s courage in the face of adversity, and the sky was the limit.

Pinning a picture of Alex to her shirt, Grandma Bee, along with her husband, Tom, jumped out of an airplane above San Diego on July 22, 2017 to raise funds for cures for pediatric cancer. 

Grandma Bee set a goal of raising $4,000 for ALSF. She free-fell into over $33,000. 

Alex’s condition stabilized in the months following the dive, but eventually worsened. That Thanksgiving, doctors discovered a new brain tumor. Alex passed away on December 1, 2018 surrounded by his family.

Grandma Bee talks about Alex often, how he was keenly aware of others’ needs and a compassionate, joyful kid. She thought he was similar to Alex Scott in this way. They were both kind and generous, thinking of others before themselves. Grandma Bee decided to adopt the same way of thinking when she lost her only daughter, Cynthia, to a car accident in December of 1995. She trained to become a grief counselor for bereaved parents since she knew the pain of losing a child.

“One thing bereaved parents will always say is that they want their child remembered,” shared Grandma Bee. “I am happy to be able to continue sharing the story of my Alex.”

Today, she and her husband continue to raise awareness of the importance of childhood cancer research, because cures will not happen without the proper effort and funding. 

3.    Christine 
Christine’s grandson John was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 2017. At the time, John, his brother Jason and his dad all lived with Christine. Christine took on a primary caregiving role in partnership with her son during John’s treatment, trading off at the hospital, staying overnights and supporting her other grandson Jason, who was scared and worried about his brother. 

Christine says it was really helpful for Jason to spend time with her and then also to have some special outings with his dad. 

Jason even donated stem cells to his brother. Today, thanks to that donation, John is in remission and continues to be upbeat and confident. 

Christine found support in building relationships with other families at the hospital and lent her support as well. She also discovered SuperSibs, a program of ALSF for the siblings of children with cancer. Christine signed up Jason, who enjoyed the SuperSib mailings and found them to be a source of comfort when his brother was sick. 

“I felt like Mom most of the time to both boys, and we continue to remain very close,” said Christine. 

This September, you can make a difference for children with cancer. Follow along in the ALSF Blog to learn more, register for The Million Mile or sign up to be part of our One Cup At a Time Club.  

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