Help During the Holidays
As the friend or relative of a family coping with their child’s cancer, give a special gift this Christmas by offering to help in some way. They need to know you are there for them, and the offer of help will likely be gratefully received.
When I was a baby, I was in hospital for weeks in the run-up to Christmas, receiving treatment for eye cancer and related complications. My mother had no time to buy Christmas gifts or food for Christmas dinner. Her focus was on caring and advocating for me.
My father worked hard every day to keep the family solvent and take care of my active toddler sister. Spare time was invested in trips on public transport into London to see my mother and me in the hospital (he couldn’t drive as he was totally blind due to retinoblastoma in infancy). He had no extra energy or time to buy a tree and decorate the house – he didn’t even know if we’d be home as a family for Christmas.
Finally, my parents learned that I would be released from hospital on December 23rd. My mother was suddenly panicked – what would she do, how would she prepare everything in just one day, with a still recovering baby and an excited toddler?
She shared her worries with a close family friend as she prepared for the return home. Imagine her surprise and gratitude when her friend replied that everything was already arranged – our entire family was to spend Christmas with this dear lady and her husband.
These incredibly thoughtful people had worked with my father to prepare gifts for each of us. They involved my sister in decorating their home, and were ready to collect us from the hospital when the doctors said I could leave.
I don’t have any memory of that Christmas, but I can hear how special it was in my mother’s retelling of it. I can see the lights twinkle and taste its sweet delights through her words. This was a bright moment in my family’s story of retinoblastoma.
The gift of friendship, thought, action and quiet (or rowdy, joyful) presence is far more precious than anything that comes in a box. My family was immensely blessed and refreshed by a couple who embraced us with their healing Christmas love, who opened their home to us when it was most needed.
When we returned home in the New Year, my parents discovered this precious couple had also filled our freezer with 6 weeks-worth of pre-cooked meals. My mother could take time to relax back into the house from which she had been away for more than three months, and focus on rebuilding relationships with her husband and both her children.
Responding with heart to simple needs – this to me is the true meaning of Christmas.
– Abby White, WE C Hope CEO
So Many Ways to Show You Care
Season with their child who has cancer? Thoughtfully selected gifts for children with Rb, their siblings and parents can have profound impact. Think about giving a gift that will be of practical value, provide support for the caregivers, or bring joy to the whole family. Whether you live close by or far away, you can do many things for the family, often without spending a penny.
Here are some suggestions:
- Offer to provide meals, or order a healthy meal to be delivered.
- Go grocery shopping or send gift vouchers for the family to spend.
- Offer to clean the house, or pay for a cleaner to do housework
- Clear leaves or snow from their driveway, or pay for a service to do this.
- Walk the dog – shorter days may make this more challenging for the family when days are filled with treatment and caring for a sick child.
- Offer lifts to the hospital or clinic – especially if the family has no car, or send gift cards for fuel, public transport or a car service.
- Give the parents some down time with a spa visit, theatre tickets or just a simple offer of babysitting for a few hours.
- Offer to take siblings for a special holiday treat or sleepover.
- Offer to help with decorating – whether that’s buying items, collecting a tree or helping to put everything up. Ask what the family wants in terms of theme, colours and style, and respect and follow their wishes.
- Invite the family to stay with you through the holidays.
Unconditional friendship is needed now more than ever. Stay in touch with parents, the affected child and siblings through supportive telephone calls and cards, but be sure to ask the family how often they would like a call – they may feel over-burdened by too much communication. Remember to keep an element of normalcy in your conversations – childhood cancer is a heavy load to bear, but the family still needs to feel they are part of the world beyond the illness. Listen to what the family needs, and let the family lead you.
The real spirit of the Holiday Season is not to be found in a turkey dinner or brightly wrapped presents under a tree, but in the gift of our presence and dedication to those around us, in the sharing of hope, peace and friendship. May we all give thanks for the rich blessings in our lives, and be motivated to serve one another by the miracles we celebrate in these precious days of light and love.