We recently sat down with Kathy Walton, the mother of a cancer survivor, to learn first-hand what to do when a friend’s child has cancer.
Kathy is a former board member of the Histio CURE Foundation, an attorney, an overall force for good, and a mother of three young children, including her son Will, who is a Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH) survivor. LCH is a rare form of blood cancer that affects 1 in 200,000 children. When Will was two, he developed painful tumors in his spine and chest that prevented him from walking. He was subsequently diagnosed with LCH. Will underwent a year of chemotherapy and was required to wear a support brace around his torso while his vertebrae healed.
Kathy’s advice spans a cancer treatment timeline, making it especially helpful for people wondering what to do when a friend’s child has cancer – and when to do it.
A “How to Help” Timeline
Early Days and Weeks
Be Respectful of Boundaries. Families have unique privacy needs when caring for a child with cancer. This is particularly true in the early days and weeks following a diagnosis. A family’s world has been turned upside down and the future may feel uncertain. Kathy encourages friends, family members and supporters to be respectful of boundaries out of the gate. It is important to be sensitive to a family’s potential desire for privacy. Always check with the parents before sharing information about the situation with others.
Give Personal Gifts. Over the course of Will’s yearlong treatment period, personal gifts brought color and levity to the family’s difficult days. “Will still sleeps with the handmade quilt he received while he was in the hospital,” says Kathy. Another favorite was a hand-crocheted cancer-fighting dragon. Kathy also recommends activity and craft-based kits to keep children busy and “superhero visits,” when safe to do so. When considering what to do when a friend’s child has cancer, get personal! Look for ways to incorporate the child’s favorite people, colors, hobbies, animals and characters into a gift.
Help with Meals. Meal delivery services are an excellent way to support an entire family who has a child going through cancer. Kathy explains that whether due to fatigue, concerns over germs or other reasons, the family may not be up for a visit. In these cases, simply leave the meal at the door and be on your way. We love Take Them a Meal, Give InKind and MealTrain for coordinating meal help with friends.
Understand New Norms. As Will’s intensive treatment period ended, the family transitioned to a new way of life. Increased attention to hygiene norms like handwashing and staying at home when sick are even more important following cancer treatment. Kathy appreciated friends reaching out to her and continuing to invite her and her family members to social events, with the understanding that they might not always be able to attend, or may unexpectedly cancel.
Fundraise. Kathy and her husband John (who coincidentally met in 2008 at a Team in Training event for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society) are active fundraisers for the HistioCURE foundation and other cause-based charities. Whether through an active sports event, corporate matching program, lemonade stand or otherwise, raising money to support pediatric cancer research is a meaningful way to demonstrate your enduring support for a family with a child who has, or has recovered from cancer.
Fortunately, Will is now a spunky eight-year-old who has no evidence of disease. Kathy and her family hope his LCH never recurs and remain committed to the fight against pediatric cancers.
As always, thanks for reading.
In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness month this September, we are rolling out resources to help join the fight against pediatric cancer. Has a child in your life been affected by cancer? What were some of the most meaningful ways your support network lifted you up? We would love to hear from you.