In February of 2013 our 15-month-old daughter Adele fell down, and when she stood up our lives were changed forever. She was crying from the bump, and I noticed her face looked a little funny. Her pediatrician told us to wait and see, but when it didn’t resolve we went for an MRI. That’s when we received the worst possible news: our baby had a brain tumor.We were told that chemo wouldn’t work, that she had less than a 10% chance of survival, and that most kids with her type of cancer don’t make it a year. By God’s grace alone Adele continues to walk this Earth. She’s a very silly, busy, clever almost 4 year old with a crooked smile.
It sounds crazy, but our experience through brain surgery, chemo and radiation actually went well because of the above and beyond support we received. Here’s what we learned from personal experience about what is (and isn’t) helpful to a family in crisis.
Things That Really Help
* Prayer. We give all credit to God for Adele being alive today. We were told that kids under 3 with less than a total resection (during surgery they couldn’t remove her entire tumor) had a less than 10% chance for survival. Special Masses were said for Adele, friends had special prayer times, our entire school added Adele to their prayer intentions every day. God heard and she’s a very typical preschooler today with only a crooked smile and hearing loss in one ear to show for the treatment she underwent.
* Cash. It feels crass to type that out, but I’m being real here. Medical bills are crazy expensive, and families in crisis often face many other unexpected expenses. We spent $200/month just on toll roads as we traveled to and from hospitals. We spent money on gas, fast food, and other necessities as we made these trips.
Just send cash in a card. Or if you are very close to the folks in need, start a bank account for others to deposit into. GoFundMe and YouCaring both take percentages (between 3%-8%) of donations received to cover their own expenses. Cash or a private bank account will insure that every penny donated goes directly to the family in need.
*Food. The only reason we didn’t live on McDonalds and frozen pizza was because people made us food. One friend made lots of individually wrapped little sandwiches. They were perfect for just grabbing here and there. Another time we got meat, cheese, crackers, pickles, a whole snacky smorgasbord. It was perfect! If you don’t cook, pick up a pizza or a pan of pasta or a veggie tray. If you make something homemade, bring it in a disposable container. That way there is no pressure for the family to return it and you’re not adding to the amount of dishes in their sink. There truly aren’t words for how incapable I was of functioning normally – having delicious, real food to eat was such a blessing.
*Time. We had some fantastic friends and family who put their lives on hold to help our with our older kids when we were gone with Adele during treatment. We also had amazing folks visit us at the hospital. You don’t have to leave your house or even your couch to give your time. I was in the hospital with Adele a lot and when we were home she couldn’t be in public because of germs. So our fun, friend-filled social life (for us and our kids) came to a screeching halt. A simple text, email or card is great. Just a little “We love you, we didn’t forget you, we are praying” is perfect.
*Stuff. Some stuff. We received Hospital Survival kits which included fancy bottled water, gum, little snacks, a paperback, a little toy or coloring book for Adele. Being stuck in a hospital room for days on end can get pretty awful, having a fun goody bag to go through was huge. The other helpful “stuff” would be necessities like paper towels, toilet paper, diapers (if applicable) – the basic things any family normally consumes. The last thing I wanted to do after a long day at the hospital was go to Wal-Mart!
*Service. We were so crazy with worry, stress, exhaustion and taking care of Adele that we didn’t even know what we needed. Amazing friends took over our lawn care. They just showed up, mowed and left! We were also given the gift of house cleaning, which was incredible – specially with chemo and Adele’s low/no immunity. You can clean yourself or hire a service for them if you have the means. Do laundry. I hadn’t gotten around to making Adele’s scrapbook yet, and she has a beautiful one now thanks to thoughtful friends who gave their time and talent.
Things That Don’t Help
*Drama. When your child is very sick or dying, priorities fall into place very quickly. Life becomes much more simple and clear. The little things fall away and don’t matter. Don’t draw them into gossip or ask for favors; this is literally life and death.
*Stuff. As I said before, limited, specific, stuff is nice but overall I think it’s overdone. Everyone wants to help and it’s fun to shop, especially for toys. But it gets to be too much. Stick with food & toiletries, but skip the knick-knacks.
We will never be able to sufficiently thank everyone who helped us during our extreme time of need. They came out of the woodwork. As crazy as it sounds, our time fighting cancer with Adele was good because of the incredible support we had. The family members that stayed with our kids while we were at the hospital with Adele, the company in the hospital, the complete strangers who pray for Adele to this day, the list goes on and on. I hope you are inspired to do whatever you can to help someone. Even if it’s just time. You don’t have to be a millionaire to be a blessing. One of the best things anyone did was tell us that they were praying when we were too tired to pray.
Melissa is a 36 year old mother of 5, ages ranging from 10 to 1. She and her husband just celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary and are proud to be Pittsburg State Gorillas. They have lived in Wichita for almost 10 years, and they love the Shockers too!
Melissa is a Catholic who prescribes to the “pray like a fanatic” way of life, and she is so thankful for her family, friends and life in Wichita.