How to Support Families with Childhood Cancer: A Local Mom’s Story

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Resources for Families

Kidlist welcomes Brittany Magnus, local mom from Downers Grove, as a guest contributor. Brittany’s son Cole was diagnosed with high-risk B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia this year, and our hearts go out to her family. We were so touched by her story that we asked her to share her journey and tips she learned along the way, both for families navigating childhood cancer and for those supporting and helping family and friends going through the same battle.

Easter was our last holiday celebration as a family before our world came crashing down. The very next day we received a call that our two-year-old son’s lymph node biopsy showed cancer. We were previously told multiple times that the doctors were not concerned, so to say that we were in a complete state of shock is an understatement. My mom came and stayed with our five-year-old son, Hudson, and my husband, and I rushed to Ann & Robert Lurie hospital that evening.

The days that followed consisted of x-rays, blood draws, a bone marrow biopsy, port placement surgery, and the loss of our little boy’s carefree childhood. Cole was diagnosed with high-risk B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which has a 3.5-year treatment plan. Those early days are still difficult to look back on because of the overwhelming emotions that we experienced. My body went into a state of fight-or-flight, and a lot of the memories I do have are hazy.

As mothers, we are taught that we are made for taking care of our children. How could my 30 month old (who I was still breastfeeding!) be full of cancer?

In the past three months, we have spent 30+ nights inpatient due to norovirus, a staph infection, a port infection requiring removal and a PICC line placement, acute pancreatitis, and a blood clot. Thankfully, we have had a smooth ride recently and are about to enter our fourth month of treatment. It’s definitely a rollercoaster of emotions.

Connecting with other families affected by childhood cancer was invaluable, especially early on.

There is something cathartic about talking to someone who knows exactly what you are going through. Being able to get advice, support, tips and tricks is so valuable. I reached out to two old friends affected by childhood cancer as soon as I received Cole’s diagnosis. I was so desperate to talk to someone who knew what we were experiencing.

We were also lucky enough to have an old friend with a family member that was inpatient on the same floor as Cole! What are the odds of that?! I’ve never been so thankful for a hug. Just knowing someone else was on the floor made me feel less alone.

Friends and family rallied around us to offer strength, encouragement, and help. I would love to share some things that have helped us transition to our new normal.

Ways to Help Families Fighting Cancer

Give gift cards for gas, groceries, and food delivery services.

I am still shocked at how quick the hospital stays add up just in terms of food, gas, and parking. Even with validation, the daily parking rate is $11–15! Delivery services such as Grubhub and Doordash are also so helpful. We also had friends drop off-home cooked meals for us at the hospital. That was a very special treat!  

Set up a meal train.

While I was at the hospital, Brad and Hudson were getting meals delivered to our home every day. Any burden that can be taken off the caregiver’s plate will help the family tremendously. While going through a traumatic, life-changing diagnosis, even small tasks like meal planning can feel overwhelming. 

Start a GoFundMe.

Our closest friends set up a GoFundMe account for Cole a day after he was diagnosed. It wasn’t something we even thought about at the time. However, we are so thankful that our friends took the initiative because they knew that we would need the financial support. 

Local Organizations That Support Families with Childhood Cancer

Cal’s Angels

Cal’s Angels is an amazing foundation with a mission of granting wishes, raising awareness and funding research to help kids fighting cancer. While we were inpatient, we were given a Cal’s Angels Comfort Kit. These bags are filled with items to make a family’s hospital stay more comfortable. The Comfort Kits are available to any oncology family, in-patient or out-patient. 

Bear Necessities

This local foundation operates two unique programs: Bear Hugs (a small wish program) and Bear Discoveries. While the Foundation is funding cutting-edge research to end pediatric cancer, it’s also providing for the immediate needs of the children and families battling the disease. 

Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation

Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation is a local foundation that raises money for cancer research and  provides support to children and their families battling the disease. We were lucky enough to attend one of their summer events last week and went to Wrigley Field for an evening of family fun. Cole was even able to run the bases! He stopped walking during the first month of treatment, so to see him go was very emotional. He and his brother had a blast chasing each other in the grass and going to the buffet an unlimited amount of times. 

If you want to follow along on Cole’s journey to beat leukemia, find me on Instagram @brittsheldon.

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