Learning that a family member has cancer is heart-breaking, especially if that person is a child. I know this first-hand because it happened to my family shortly after we had moved to the United States.
At the age of four, my youngest brother was diagnosed with leukemia. The entire family was devastated and fearful. But my family knew we were blessed to be in the United States, and close to world-class medical treatment.
For any family, the shock of the news and fear of what the future holds is bad enough—but this is often exacerbated by the financial burdens that go along with treatment for chronic illness. Parents may struggle with whether they can take time off from work to be at their child’s bedside for numerous appointments and lengthy treatments. If they miss work, they risk not being able to keep up with their bills. In addition to medical costs, there can also be travel and housing costs.
I was fifteen when my brother was diagnosed, and I remember taking him to many of his appointments and treatments. After each one, I would take him home on the public bus, carrying a plastic bag in case he got sick. It was incredibly hard to see him suffering and in pain, but the kindness of the doctors stands out to me to this day.
I am thrilled to know that there are now organizations that help families going through experiences like ours. Two years ago I learned about the The Tommy Fund for Childhood Cancer, and I was blown away by the services they offer. The Tommy Fund provides emotional, educational, medical and financial support to families with children who are receiving cancer treatment at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven. Working closely with social workers, The Tommy Fund reacts swiftly to the families’ pressing financial needs, by paying bills including rent, mortgage, and utilities, and helping with the cost of wigs, hospital parking, and meals. In addition, The Tommy Fund sponsors annual holiday parties for patients, families and staff; funds a licensed professional who provides reflexology work to caregivers; and provides refreshments at the pediatric oncology clinic.
Last week I was so pleased to visit The Tommy Fund Pediatric Hematology Oncology Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven. The reception area boasts an incredibly colorful fish tank (I am jealous of how well-maintained it is!), and the bright rooms of the clinic are filled with toys, snacks, and resources to help both children and their parents pass the time during treatments. My wife Asma and I met some of the nurses, social workers, and support staff who help these families in their time of greatest need. We believe they’re angels on earth.
At our visit, we were honored to present a check from the Tariq Farid Foundation to The Tommy Fund for $20,000, to provide financial assistance to families in need. My hope is that this support will, in some small way, alleviate some of the stress parents feel when their child is undergoing treatment.
One of the appeals for me of The Tommy Fund is that it is almost exclusively volunteer-run, and requires only small expenditures for accounting and administrative costs. I encourage you to learn more about The Tommy Fund here, and to make a donation here. Or, research whether there is a similar organization helping families in your area. I am so thankful for The Tommy Fund and other organizations who try to ease the burdens that parents of sick children feel.