Buzz—Buzz—goes the alert on your phone. As you reach to open the text message, your stomach drops.
“Did you hear about Lucy’s family? Their daughter was just diagnosed with…”
“Oh no!” you reply in disbelief, “What can we do to help?”
This scenario plays out with so many childhood illnesses. Many times, it can be something that will heal fairly quickly like the flu, a broken leg, or even emergency appendicitis. Other times it is more involved, like a life-threatening illness like cancer, or a life-long diagnosis like Type One diabetes.
In my young daughter, childhood cancer was found ravaging her body. We were stunned, overwhelmed, and had no idea what kind of help we needed from friends and family. We often heard, “How can we help?” and we answered, “We don’t know what we need”. Looking back at that time, here is what helped the most.
Meeting immediate needs: Food, Shelter, Childcare and Gas.
- Our church family stocked our freezer with convenience foods that made quick meals.
- Our Homeschool group set up a free “Meal Train” sign up list on Mealtrain.com to organize hot meals. Initially they were delivered daily, but this quickly overwhelmed us with large portion sizes. When parents are gone with the sick child, often only a few children and a caregiver remain at the house for meals. Smaller sized meals and every-other-day delivery worked better for our family.
- Many parents must find temporary housing close to the hospital, often in a hotel. The bill for a hotel room can add up quickly.
- An oftentimes overlooked item is gas to go back and forth to the hospital. We live over an hour from the hospital. With the high price of fuel, the daily trip quickly drained the budget. We greatly appreciated all the gas gift cards we were offered.
- Eating out while driving. We spent up to two hours on the road each day. Stopping at a fast-food restaurant while driving meant a minimum of $20 every trip. Food gift cards were very helpful. For our daughter, chemo changed her taste buds. She craved the salty fries and refused to eat much else. Needing calories meant we stopped for them every time.
Meeting physical needs:
- While sitting in a hospital we were often brought gifts to pass the time. Small toys that could be used in bed like playdoh, water paints, stickers, Legos, miniature figures, craft projects, etc. all brought joy to an otherwise endless boring treatment. While stuffed animals are nice, they become overwhelming very quickly. We ended up with hundreds from well-meaning friends that we had to figure out where to store and what to do with.
- Snack foods for sitting in the hospital room, along with a bag of quarters for vending machines.
- Travel pillows, blankets, and toiletry supplies were good as we sometimes got caught without things we needed.
- Don’t be afraid to buy off of an Amazon wish list. Our list was a perfect way for me to share what we really needed. Clothing to fit over medical equipment-yes. Three duplicates of the same cute book- nope.
- Want to purchase bigger items? Rolling suitcases make a great gift to free the parents’ hands up getting into the hospital. Amazon has good choices in multiple sizes.
- Something fun for the kids and helpful for the parents is a good quality wagon. Many children on the cancer floor take treatments while sitting in their wagons. It becomes a mobile safe place for their blanket, pillow, and toys.
- An iPad, child-friendly case, and subscription to a streaming service like Disney+ are great gifts. While pricey, the amount of time a child sits for treatments means that screen time is no longer limited. These children need these things to keep them busy.
What about serving the family at home?
- Showing up to mow the yard. We had three men come to mow our huge yard during our daughter’s treatments. They were a lawn mowing company who donated their time. I gratefully gave them a fantastic review on their website.
- Doing the laundry for the family. Our dryer broke and so a friend came took all our laundry and returned it clean and folded.
- Offering childcare for the kids at home. Our goal was to keep our other children in a familiar routine. We had three women that came into our home over the course of a year that allowed the children to be home, still doing normal things, when we weren’t able to be there.
- Oftentimes, treatments will require long-term needs and encompass huge medical costs. Our daughter’s treatments were $2.5 million. The funds collected helped us pay bills, meet deductibles for our insurance, and put back money for her future health care costs. Long after treatment is complete, there are residual side-effects that show up.
- Fundraisers and local benefits were a huge help financially. Be aware that some sites like GoFundMe keep a portion of the funds for administration.
- In some cases, like our daughter’s, healing is not achieved. After fighting a year, we released our daughter to Heaven. You are left with affording a funeral and burial. Not many families are prepared financially to bury their child.
I have seen where sometimes parents in crisis are accused of taking advantage of the situation for their own financial gain. While some of the things listed here might seem extravagant, I hope you can see it through the eyes of the family. These small things bring great joy to our child, and they reduce the tension in a hugely stressful time. No parent that I know would ever want a financial benefit at the sake of their child’s health. Take the stuff and give me back my healthy child!