How to Help the Family of a
Child With Cancer

**Enlist people to send cards and silly, fun things to the child and any brothers or sisters.  A little fun and excitement go a long way toward alleviating pain and fear.  Find out what the child likes (some kids collect stickers, beanie baby toys, cool hats, pins, etc.) and help get a collection started if he or she doesn't have one already.  It will provide something fun to focus on and then people will know what to send or bring when they don't know what else to do.

**If it's possible to get there, come and sit with the parent in the hospital on those long days when he or she is scared and bored and exhausted all at the same time.  Bring a favorite food or a new magazine, and bring lots of news and stories to tell to make them feel less left out of normal life.  Hang out with the child so Mom or Dad can get a shower and something to eat.

**If their treatment center is fairly far from home, phone calls (and gifts of those pre-paid phone cards so they can call out) can make them feel like they're still in touch with family and friends.

**If the sick child is a teen, provide transportation so that friends can come to the hospital.  Staying in touch with friends and having their support is REALLY important.

**Be the "fun" friend who shows up at the hospital room or at home with bubbles, silly string, joke books, Marx Brothers videos, rub-on tattoos, whatever.  Life is scary enough right now without having all the grown-ups walk in with long faces!  It'll help Mom and Dad, too.  One of our dearest friends showed up at the hospital with a roll of paper, painters' tape (the kind that doesn't leave sticky marks) and a box or markers.  She covered the walls with paper and each person who visited my son drew pictures for him, wrote jokes, left funny notes and signed their names. Of course, he wanted to draw, too!  Distraction is the name of the game!

**If the child has brothers or sisters, find someone whose special job it is to give each of them attention, time, treats.  They're scared and they're left out and they need people to take them places and listen to them and make them feel important.  Be that person!

**After the initial shock of diagnosis, the child's family will see some friends and family members fade out of the picture.  It is easy for busy people to forget that this is a LONG term problem for the child and his or her family.  Meals and help during those first few crisis weeks are very important, but so is support over the long haul. Even if it's just a call once every week or two, don't lose touch, and try to check in to see how their needs may be changing over time.

**Find out if there are any special needs the family has, and try to coordinate a solution to their problem.  Is there a child who is often home alone after school because one parent is at work and the other is at the hospital?  Do they need help with transportation or a supply of meals on certain days when normal life is impossible because of clinic visits, diagnostic tests, etc.?  Once you've identified an area of concern, work WITH the family to help them solve the problem.  In particular, don't ever decide on your own to sponsor a large project like a fund-raiser or major house repair, etc., without talking with the family first.  As well-meaning as many of these efforts can be, they may not always be serving the family's most urgent needs.  Any supportive undertaking needs to be done in a way that respects the family's wishes and honors their privacy.