A Safe and Healthy Halloween 2022

A Safe and Healthy Halloween 2022

Keep calm, trick or treat, and carry on…

Happy Halloween picture with smiling kidsHalloween can bring joy and excitement for children with cancer but also a little “FOMO” (fear of missing out), especially when they see their friends and family enjoying all the festivities at school and in the community. Cancer or not, since the Covid-19 pandemic started, we have all needed to be a little more careful with the details of our outings. Extra masks, sanitizer, frequent hand-washing, being vaccinated, keeping social distance, and avoiding large crowds are just the basic requirements that will likely be permanent ways of life for every person on the planet. Alas, we should still strive to hold to the allure of thrilling celebrations like Halloween! If your family traditionally partakes in all the ghoulish fun of the season, you will probably need to adjust your usual haunts and flaunts when you have a child with cancer. But, fear not! There are plenty of ways to keep all the Halloween traditions while protecting your child and being cautious of their delicate health. Here are some Halloween tips for children with cancer.

Halloween At Home
Two young boys in halloween costumes

Photo by Liliana Drew

As a parent of a child with cancer, it’s perfectly understandable that you might have already decided that it makes the most sense for your family to enjoy Halloween festivities at home. The great news is there are plenty of ways to get in the ‘spirit’ right from the comfort of your home. Getting decked out in your favorite costumes and cuddling on the couch to watch some not-too-scary Halloween movies while munching on ghoulishly decorated treats is sure to make even your most picky critique batty. Check out these personally vetted Halloween-themed movies and DIY easy bites!

Top Rated Classic “Spooky” Flicks:
  1. Coraline– ”Coraline Jones discovers a secret world that’s like her own, but better! When her Other Mother tries to keep her, Coraline must be brave to get home.”
  2. ParaNorman– ”Norman Babcock finds his paranormal abilities pushed to their limits as he takes on zombies and ghosts to save his town from a centuries-old curse.”
  3. A Monster In Paris– ”Experiments gone wrong and a chemical explosion results in a monster unleashed in Paris, but he might not be as dangerous as everyone thought.”
  4. Roald Dahl’s The Witches– ”A young boy and his grandmother have a run-in with a coven of witches and their leader.”
  5. The Addams Family– “Get ready to snap your fingers! The Addams Family is an animated comedy about the kookiest family on the block. Funny, outlandish, and utterly iconic, the Addams Family redefines what it means to be a good neighbor.”
  6. Hocus Pocus– “You’re in for a devil of a time when three outlandishly wild witches return from 17th-century Salem after being accidentally conjured up by some unsuspecting pranksters!”

*Source Descriptions: Imdb.com, tubitv.com, amazon.com, netflix.com

Frightfully Fit Treats!
Kids working on halloween decorations

Photo by Daisy Anderson

  • Pre-made and ready to go!
    • Allergy-friendly candies made with natural ingredients by Yum Earth
    • Low sugar with just the right amount of sweet by Rip Van Wafels Dutch
    • All-natural crunchy fruit snacks by Bare Baked
    • Healthy “Cheetos” made out of chickpeas by HIPPEAS
Costumes on a Budget
Girl showing off her stylish and budget costume

Photo by Daisy Anderson Cottonbro from Pexels

Did you know that every year in, millions of Halloween costumes are thrown away or forgotten about? That’s right, our landfills get consumed with costumes made from sin-use plastic materials that are primarily non-biodegradable. With Halloween fast approaching and not to mention the rising cost of ALL goods, don’t feel shy about acquiring costumes for your family that have been donated or purchased.

You can obviously use costumes from previous years or try your creativity at a DIY masterpiece. But, when you are busy caring for a sick child, a ready-made one is understandably easier. There are many options to find costumes that won’t break your wallet:

  1. Costume swap with neighbors and friends without spending a dime! Post your costume or look for one at low cost or free on NextdoorFacebook Marketplace, or your local Goodwill store.
  2. Costumes specifically available for children with cancer are distributed across the United States by several wonderful organizations, including; ‘WEEN DREAM.
  3. Wheelchair and walker-friendly costumes from the non-profit organization Walkin’ & Rollin’.
Stepping Out?Boy posing at Lego Land

Perhaps you want to brave the haunts that lurk outdoors and take your child out of the home for some Halloween fun instead. Many community-based options exist. Check your local areas to see if they have timed, safe, and kid-friendly offerings. Some places will likely offer a low-key, festive experience:

  • Your child’s/family hospital and/or doctor’s office
  • Libraries
  • Indoor and Outdoor shopping malls and Centers
  • Car dealership hubs
  • Farms
  • Nature Centers
  • Community and Town Centers
Need More Support? Contact Us!

We hope you found these Halloween tips for children with cancer, helpful. If you need additional help; whether it is finding the perfect superhero costume or help at home, or if you are a family with a child newly diagnosed with cancer or know of a family who finds themselves in this challenging situation, please contact Here to Serve. Please click on the Get Help button from our homepage. Wishing you and your family a safe Halloween filled with lasting memories!

By Sameera Rangwala, M.S., M.P.H

About the Author

Sameera Rangwala spent 15 years in the biotechnology industry. As a scientist and research professional, she uses her skills to blog and provides words of support to the cancer community.

All content in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. Always consult a medical provider in your particular area of need before making significant changes in your medical decisions or lifestyle.

National Critical Illness Awareness Month

National Critical Illness Awareness Month

Are you covered?

Child in critical careIt may seem like a “designated” awareness month exists for just about everything these days. From “National No Beard Day” to “National Lima Bean Respect Day,” there is no lack of creative ideas dedicated to a month or day. However, amongst the seemingly silly days, the truly significant ones are brought back to the surface yearly.  National Critical Illness Awareness Month was founded by The American Association for Critical Illness Insurance in 2011. A critical illness, unlike the flu in most cases, is a life-threatening medical condition.  This month, the three main acute illnesses highlighted nationally are heart attack, stroke, and cancer. October was selected because Fall is usually the time of the year that employers offer critical illness insurance plans to their employees.

Man looking at his laptop with a serious face

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-wearing-brown-jacket-and-using-grey-laptop-874242/

In most  cases, a childhood cancer diagnosis is something that you can’t foreshadow. The bad news feels like it comes out of the twilight zone, especially if your family doesn’t have any history of chronic or critical illnesses. Besides learning all about your child’s cancer and treatment journey, you are suddenly left figuring out how you will cover the medical costs. Unfortunately, cancer doesn’t always follow the “open enrollment” insurance calendar, and it’s an uninvited, unwelcomed guest that can show up anytime. You might ask yourself, should I prepare now just in case after reading this? Does my employer offer critical illness insurance? What other options do I have if my employer doesn’t offer coverage? Here we’ll briefly cover the questions you should be asking your employer and resources to help you navigate how to prepare for the future and/or acquire cancer medical coverage quickly when you least expected you needed it.

How Does Critical Illness Insurance Work?

Critical illness insurance is a specific type of insurance that gives policyholders a lump sum payment for catastrophic diagnoses like cancer. The policyholder can use the money they receive however they like, and many put it toward medical bills or to replace lost wages. Every policy has slightly different terms and most cover these illnesses:Sick child sitting on bench

  • Cancer
  • Organ transplant
  • Heart transplant
  • Heart attack
  • Paralysis
  • Coronary bypass surgery
  • Stroke
  • Kidney failure
  • Organ transplant
  • Heart transplant
  • Parkinson’s
  • Lou Gehrig’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis

Each insurance will clearly state which illnesses they cover and which they don’t with critical illness insurance. Understandably, it’s not common to think about the possibility of your child becoming critically ill. However, if this happens, you might need financial support in your household, which is precisely what children’s critical illness insurance can provide. Adult policies can also be extended to cover them at no extra charge when it comes to a child that may get a critical illness like pediatric cancer. Adult policies can also be extended to protect them at no additional cost.

Should I get covered?

Critical illness insurance coverage is worth it if you believe you would struggle with the finances of getting extremely ill. An adult getting sick or having a severely ill child can significantly impact household finances, especially if the primary earner needs to take time off work. Critical illness insurance can lighten the burden of a cancer diagnosis in your household. Additionally, each policy’s lump sum payment will vary depending on specific insurance terms. The payment can be generous depenidng on the diagnosis, and the amount can range between $10,000 to $50,000.

Types of Critical Illness Insurance
Health insurance spelled out in tiles

Photo by Olya Kobruseva: https://www.pexels.com/photo/health-insurance-scrabble-tiles-on-planner-7163955/

There are three types of critical illness insurance most companies offer. You should consult with your employer-funded or private insurance company to find out what coverage is available to you.  Each provides different benefits and considerations:

Simplified Issue: Individual or Group

Usually the most common and inexpensive. The majority of simplified issue policies have a maximum payout of $50,000. Simplified issue insurance policies have a lower monthly premium, and you don’t need to provide rigorous family medical history information.

Fully Underwritten: Individual or Group

This coverage offers a higher payout for policyholders, usually up to $500,000.  The insurance company will require an extensive medical history to award you a policy close to the maximum payout amount, and monthly premium payments will increase.

Policy Rider

This will apply if you have an existing policy. A policy rider can be added at any time, even if it’s not the typical window for choosing insurance.

Please contact your specific health insurance company to find out how you and your family can be covered in the event of a critical illness diagnosis.

Need More Support To Find Medical Coverage? Contact Us!

If you are a family with a child newly diagnosed with cancer, or if you know of a family who finds themselves in this challenging situation, please contact Here to Serve. Their team is ready to help families navigate this challenging new world in light of a childhood cancer diagnosis and provide support in many different ways. Please click on the Get Help button from our homepage.

By Sameera Rangwala, M.S., M.P.H

About the Author

Sameera Rangwala spent 15 years in the biotechnology industry. As a scientist and research professional, she uses her skills to blog and provides words of support to the cancer community.

All content in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. Always consult a medical provider in your particular area of need before making significant changes in your medical decisions or lifestyle.

Dealing with Pain in Pediatric Cancer

Dealing with Pain in Pediatric Cancer

Why Does It Hurt?

Tearful toddler in hospitalPain is a massive burden in pediatric cancer for both children and caregivers. Although the focus on cancer treatment may take priority, managing pain from cancer, treatments, or procedures remains an ongoing challenge for many children and parents throughout the cancer journey. In fact, about 70% of children with cancer report severe pain, yet over 50% experience undertreated pain. With so many pain management options available, why are so many kids still suffering from pain? As pain awareness month closes, we wanted to highlight this difficult part of the cancer experience, how and why pain happens, and what you can do to best manage it.

What is pain?

This might seem obvious, but how it happens actually isn’t so black and white. According to the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP), pain is the unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that comes with actual or potential tissue damage.

Young patient sleepingTypes of pain during cancer
  • Acute pain is a short-term pain that will subside with recovery. If your child is undergoing surgery or a new treatment, it might be a good idea to talk to their doctor about a plan for pain management.
  • Chronic pain can occur from cancer pressing on a bone, organ, or nerve. When nerves are damaged, it sends pain signals to the brain on their own.
How does it happen?

Nociceptors cells are designed to sense damage to the tissue and signal a message up the spine and brain. This triggers motor signals in your brain to activate when experiencing things like acute pain. It’s why you move your hand off a burning hot object just as fast as you realize what is happening.

Importance of describing pain in cancer

Measuring pain in children can be difficult because there are many reasons that they might not accurately report it. Hesitancy to write pain can come from fears of going to the hospital, thinking that their cancer is getting worse, that it will upset their family, or that they will have to stop activities. It’s also valid for parents to feel hesitancy towards pain management due to fear of addiction or lack of knowledge about the drug.

Giving your doctor the most accurate description of the pain will help you or your child get proper pain management. Pain is different for everyone because it’s measured by how your brain interprets it, so healthcare providers rely on these surveys to help determine potential treatments. Your doctor will likely already asks these questions, but there are a few things you can do to prepare for the conversation.

When the doctor asks:Sick young boy with a cool wrap around his head
Can you rate your pain from 1-10?

This feels like a very vague question and might be interpreted in many different ways, so it’s helpful to know the formal definitions.

  • 1-3 is mild pain that is distracting to your activities.
  • 4-6 is moderate pain that can interrupt your activities.
  • 7-10 is severe pain that inhibits you from being able to do your activities.
What does the pain feel like?

The 4 types of “feelings” in pain are stabbing, throbbing, dull, or radiating. Making notes throughout the day if the feeling changes may be helpful for your doctor.

When did it start?

Hindsight is always 20/20. You may think you’ll remember when the pain begins, but keeping a journal or log of your pain may be helpful. This includes the date when it starts, how it feels throughout the day, and what makes the pain better or worse. 

When things are too much to deal with

Here to Serve is here to help! Managing your child’s pain can be a challenge, among many others, throughout the cancer journey. Here to Serve can help lift the burdens of at-home needs, coordination, and resource referrals to provide you with the support you need to focus on what matters most. Check out our complete list of services, and get help today!

  1. Tutelman PR, Chambers CT, Stinson JN, et al. Pain in Children With Cancer: Prevalence, Characteristics, and Parent Management. Clin J Pain. 2018;34(3):198-206.
  2. Garland EL. Pain processing in the human nervous system: a selective review of nociceptive and biobehavioral pathways. Prim Care. 2012;39(3):561-71. doi: 10.1016/j.pop.2012.06.013.
  3. Fortier, M. (2014, December 16). Treating cancer pain in children at home. UCI Health. https://www.ucihealth.org/news/2014/12/webinar-treating-cancer-pain-in-children-at-home
  4. Neuropathic pain. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. September 21, 2021. Accessed Sept 15th, 2022. https://www.mskcc.org/pdf/cancer-care/patient-education/video/how-describe-your-cancer-pain?mode=large

By Emily Rogalin

All information on this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. Always consult a medical provider in your particular area of need before making significant changes in your medical decisions or lifestyle.

September to Remember- Blood Cancer Awareness Month

September to Remember

Blood Cancer Awareness Month

Blood Cancer Awareness red ribbonThe most common cancer diagnosed in children 15 and under is leukemia, accounting for almost one out of every three cancers in this age group. Blood cancers account for about 10 percent of all diagnosed cancers in the U.S. each year. There is no better time to share knowledge about blood cancers in children than in September- Blood Cancer Awareness Month. Raising awareness and spreading positive and encouraging words help make the cancer journey less stressful!

Although the survival rate for childhood leukemia has improved over the years, every 3 minutes, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with a blood cancer. More than 1.3 million Americans are living with or in remission from a blood cancer. That is why the U.S. Congress has designated September as Blood Cancer Awareness Month to promote greater awareness and advance research.

Childhood Blood Cancers-Causes and Symptoms

According to the American Cancer Society, childhood leukemia accounts for about 28 percent of all cancers in children. That is why it is so important to raise awareness to this during the blood cancer awareness month. Leukemia is a cancer of the blood-forming tissues and occurs in the bone marrow and the lymphatic system. Leukemia cells are abnormal white blood cells that grow out of control and cannot function like normal immune cells. As a result, these cells cannot do their jobs of preventing infections, carrying oxygen, and causing the blood to clot.

According to Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, blood cancers develop from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Most childhood leukemias are acquired genetic diseases not inherited from parents. This means that the gene mutations in the cells occur sporadically (by chance). However, some risk factors include radiation, chemotherapy agents, and toxins, including benzene. Chromosome abnormalities can cause Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)

Types of Leukemia

A child with leukemia is infection-prone, looks pale, lethargic, and bruises easily. They may complain of pain in their arms, legs, or joints and experience swollen gums or glands. Other signs include nosebleeds, petechiae (red spots on the skin), fever, weight loss, and feelings of heart palpitations. If your child has one or two of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean they have cancer. Checking with your healthcare provider will allay your fears.

Reactions to Your Child’s Cancer!!Diagram showing symptoms of leukemia

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it’s a crisis to the whole family!!! Normal daily life is changed. Parents have to take frequent breaks from work. Siblings may need to be taken care of by relatives or neighbors. Life is turned upside down and suddenly becomes an emotional roller coaster for every family member. Your initial thoughts may be, “Why is this happening to my child?” or “How will we survive through this?”. Parents play a crucial role in handling these unpredicted and unexpected situations. Handling emotions relies strongly on individual coping styles, life experiences, personality, and cultural differences. Organizations like Here to Serve can provide wraparound support at home for the entire cancer journey reducing stress and giving families more quality time together.

Child with leukemia giving two thumbs upWays to Cope With a Cancer Diagnosis
* Knowledge is the key

Learn as much as possible about your child’s condition. During this time, being alert and staying updated is helpful to cope. In addition, learn about treatments, and don’t hesitate to ask questions about your child’s disease with your health care team.

* Write down your feelings/ emotions in a journal

Writing always helps! Keep a small diary or notebook and pen your thoughts in the book to remove the stress from your mind and put it in a journal. Time allows you to see things from a different perspective.

* Get help from your cancer team

Seek help from social workers, nurses, doctors, and healthcare professionals on your child’s treatment team. Experts can help you tackle your emotions and learn skills like relaxation and stress management. Take notes every time you visit the doctor. Don’t expect to retain all that is said to you. Ask a family member or a friend to be there to take notes when you speak with professionals learning about the treatment plans and options you have. Ask for second opinions if you feel unsure about treatments.

* Share your feelings

Involve your family members, relatives, and friends in this journey you never asked for. Open up your heart, and speak all the emotions you are going through with your trusted friends and family members.

* Make time for therapy

You can help your child manage the cancer battle by providing all the moral support needed if you are mentally healthy. Therapy can help. Take out some time for yourself. Exercise at home; pull out your mat and do yoga or meditation. Take short walks for 20-30 minutes. Take a two-minute walk if you can’t find 20-30 minutes. Even music therapy can be beneficial this time. Check out our recent blog on music therapy.

* Have Pets

Pets can play an important role in cancer treatment and recovery. But you do have to ensure that the animal is healthy before you start cancer treatment. They can spread infections to a patient undergoing chemotherapy. Your oncologist can help you understand your treatments and whether pets can be an asset or a potential detriment. Pets can sense your anxiety, stress, and sadness and bring joy even if you are at your lowest self. Some dogs are also being trained as therapy dogs or service dogs.

* Create a New Normal

Try to create a new normal for you, your child, and your entire family. Understandably, these difficult times turn your schedule upside-down. Talk with your employer. If your community offers to help you, get in touch with Here to Serve, so you do not have to organize your support. Here to Serve will do that for you. They are the only national nonprofit offering wraparound support to families with children battling cancer.

* Seek professional caregiving support

As a parent and a caregiver, you may sometimes feel overwhelmed, stressed out, and need additional support. Attend some sessions with the social support group or find a counselor who helps families process their emotions and learn coping techniques. There are also many home-based cancer and caregiver support groups available. For example, Here to Serve provides wraparound services to meet the everyday needs of families navigating through cancer and all the resources and help you need. Seek help from such caregiving services sooner rather than later.

Here are also a few other care support services:

You Are Not Alone

A cancer diagnosis is one of the most painful, intense, and traumatizing stressors families have to go through. This is why Here to Serve makes a point to reach out to the families and offer wraparound help through these difficult times!! Please remember, you are not alone in this journey! Make sure to reach out to Here to Serve right from the beginning! Our team provides the physical, emotional, and financial support you need to ease your journey! Connect with us and also recommend us to those other families in need!

By Apurva Makashir

Leukemia patient smiling with sibling

All information on this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. Always consult a medical provider in your particular area of need before making significant changes in your medical decisions or lifestyle.

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month 2022

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month 2022

What You Need to Know; Myths or Facts!
Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Photo by Tara Winstead: https://www.pexels.com/photo/yellow-ribbon-on-white-background-8385465/

Childhood cancer is the leading cause of death by disease for children in the U.S. September is dedicated to National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, an initiative started by President Obama in 2012. It’s a time to educate the nation on pediatric cancer, support families dealing with childhood cancer, and inspire funding for pediatric cancer research and funding for families currently being overlooked during their cancer treatment and journey. What we’ve learned about the diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and well-being of patients with pediatric cancer over the last two decades has dramatically evolved with a clearer understanding of causes and treatment improvements for the future. This blog is dedicated to progress in pediatric cancer support and debunking common myths and misconceptions about childhood cancer.

Predictable or Preventable?

Child sitting on bench waiting

Many parents wonder if they did something to cause their child’s cancer diagnosis.

  • Did I feed them the wrong foods?
  • Expose them to an unsafe environment?
  • Is it genetic?

It’s understandable to feel a sense of guilt or rack your brain contemplating if you could have prevented it. As a parent, you might find yourself researching the causes of cancer and stumble upon a few studies that suggest a reason based on a small data set. It’s important to remember that when looking for statistics, possibilities, and answers, they are from reputable resources—sample size matters when looking at data. So if you read somewhere that eating too many “potato chips,” as an exaggerated example, can predispose your child to leukemia, be sure that you find those same results from multiple studies within a large population. The good news is that potato chips have no connection to causing cancer. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society and the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, lifestyle factors usually take many years to influence cancer risk, and they are not thought to play much of a role in childhood cancers. Possible radiation and parental exposure from smoking have been linked in some studies to increase the risk of cancer in children. However, more data needs to be generated to make a concrete conclusion. Adults may have behaviors that put them at a higher risk for cancer, such as smoking or eating an unhealthy diet. But children are too young for unhealthy habits to increase their cancer risk.

Answers Remain a Medical Enigma

Researchers continue to investigate the causes of childhood cancer, but the exact answer remains a medical enigma. Some studies suggest a strong family history of cancer may increase a child’s risk, but these genes are extremely rare. Childhood cancers are almost always caused by a DNA mutation that is not inherited but happens randomly. Children with random DNA mutations can’t pass them on to their children in the future. To date, researchers have looked and continue to look at every possible cause of childhood cancer – from what the mother’s diet was during pregnancy to the parents’ jobs to where they live. Unfortunately, they can’t come up with a finite reason why some children get cancer, and others do not. Parents need to understand this isn’t their fault, the child’s fault, or anybody’s fault.

6 Pediatric Cancer Myths

There are several myths surrounding childhood cancer research and widespread disease characteristics, and it’s understandable, especially if you are waiting for a cure, treatment, or making a substantial donation. You want to know how research works, how fast it’s moving, and how much funding is needed to get it moving forward. If cancer is the first critical disease in your family, you may not know how it differs from the common cold. Let’s debunk some of these myths so you can better understand the progress from the cancer research standpoint.

Child with cancer smiling while holding stuffed animalsMyth #1: There’s just one “cure” for childhood cancer.

The truth: Specific kinds of therapies, like cell, gene, and immunotherapy, could unlock better treatments for many different types of cancers, but treatment will always be individualized from one disease to another and from one patient to another.

Myth #2: Childhood cancer is rare, and research doesn’t need as much funding.

The truth: There are so many kinds of childhood cancers, almost all considered ‘rare,’ however, childhood cancer is a widespread, prevalent problem. Did you know that childhood cancer research funding accounts for just 4% of all federal funding for cancer research? Therefore, childhood cancer researchers rely on the generosity of donors to fund their work.

Young patient standing in hallway

Myth #3: Childhood cancer is the same as adult cancer.

The truth: Many childhood cancers result from cell DNA changes that happen when the child is very young, sometimes even before birth. This means childhood cancers can’t be prevented by limiting environmental risk factors like many adult cancers. Funding researchers studying childhood cancer is critical so we can learn more about causes and create treatments that might prevent relapse, specifically in children. So every dollar helps!

Myth #4: Childhood cancer research is prolonged, and little progress has been made.

The truth: New discoveries about childhood cancer and treatments used to fight it are constantly being evaluated by research experts worldwide. Childhood cancers, like osteosarcoma, have seen more meaningful advances in research in the past five years than in the previous 30 years. Researchers can make advancements more quickly when they have adequate funding.

Myth #5: Cancer is contagious and can spread like the flu.

The truth is: Cancer is not contagious and cannot spread from one child to another. But, kids with cancer are usually discouraged from going to crowded places because their immunity is low, making them vulnerable to infections. Cancer is nothing like the flu.

Myth #6: Childhood cancer is a death sentence for sure.

The truth: Most childhood cancers are curable. For example, childhood leukemia’s three-year overall survival rate is 89%. Successful treatment depends on essential factors such as receiving current standard therapy, a positive outlook, and an abundance of hope and faith to overcome cancer.

How Can You Help?

You may be wondering how you can help kids with cancer. While donations always help, there are many more ways to give and lend your support, especially during this particular month. Here are a few ways to participate in National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Choose any that resonates with you and show support for young people and their families fighting this disease.

Gold ribbon for National Childhood Cancer Awareness1. Wear gold

The symbol for childhood cancer awareness is the gold ribbon. Adding a gold ribbon to your outfit shows your support for the cause and encourages others to do the same. You’ll create a chain reaction that boosts awareness and inspires social action in your community.

2. Update your profile picture

We encourage people to apply a gold ribbon or filter to their profile photos on social media. This small symbol helps advocate and promote the need for increased funding for pediatric cancer research.

Young cancer patient smiling

3. Shave your hair in solidarity

This might be a surprising way to show your support, but its impact is huge. Kids facing cancer usually choose to shave their heads to feel physically uniform as they undergo treatments that cause hair loss. This is why shaving your head is a powerful symbol of solidarity, showing children going through treatment that they’re not alone. You might even consider organizing a head-shaving party in your community and turning it into a fundraiser..

4. Share your story- Your child’s cancer story might inspire others to action, giving people a glimpse of what it’s like to face aggressive treatments, emotional setbacks, and an uncertain future. Now almost every person, young and old, are constantly using digital services for information; post your story loud and clear on any social media site to express your reality and spread awareness. When we raise our voices, others are encouraged to raise theirs.   

5. Volunteer your time

Nonprofits who help families with children battle cancer will put your money to good use. Donating time to Here to Serve helps families in need.

By volunteering hands-on, you will feel the direct impact of your support during childhood cancer month. Nonprofits, like Here to Serve, can always use an extra hand or benefit from services you and/or your employer can provide.

Find volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood or with us. We can support families navigating a pediatric cancer diagnosis because of our dedicated volunteers. Support our mission and help families in need!

As always, Here to Serve is here to help provide and connect families to resources they may be unable to find. Please contact us if you or someone you know needs assistance as they navigate a cancer diagnosis. We’ll do our very best to get the help and support you need.

From our team at Here to Serve, we wish you health and perseverance during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month!

Keep Strong and Advocate On!

By Sameera Rangwala, M.S., M.P.H

About the Author

Sameera Rangwala spent 15 years in the biotechnology industry. As a scientist and research professional, she uses her skills to blog and provides words of support to the cancer community.

All content in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. Always consult a medical provider in your particular area of need before making significant changes in your medical decisions or lifestyle.

Art Helps Cancer Patients’ Mental Health

Art Helps Cancer Patients’ Mental Health

A Form of Therapy

Paint brushes and canvasArt has been used since ancient times to express ourselves. It provides a means to communicate when words are not enough and a positive distraction from the troubles around us. Creating art has always been a form of therapy for humanity; now science is proving that it can be a form of treatment to help the mental health of children with cancer and their caregivers. It can come in painting, drawing, sculpting, collaging, and more. When so much feels out of control, creating art allows kids to be the architect of their own stories, unlocking their imagination and child-like wonder, which is something every child deserves.

Art Improves Communication and Mental Health

It’s hard to express the gravity of the cancer journey, especially as a child. Art therapy is often used to help children express their feelings, build relationships, and improve their coping skills. It also requires a basic level of focus which can distract children from stress and pain. Sometimes, art can be telling and guide a conversation about the child’s struggles or insecurities. Hand paintFor example, if a child draws their friends at school, this may bring up the topic of isolation or loneliness. Art can also uplift spirits, like a child drawing themselves as superheroes can help enhance confidence.

In a study from the National Endowment for the Arts’ Research Labs program found that patients were less stressed and anxious and felt more positive and confident. It was even described as a few moments of respite from hectic treatment schedules. Caregivers reported less burnout, allowing them to process the challenges and journey of dealing with cancer.

How to Optimize an Art Therapy Session

You can get a professional art therapist for your child’s art sessions, but it’s unnecessary. All you need are art tools and a child ready to play!

  • Pick an optional time of day. It’s best to schedule a time during the day when your child has more energy. Having these activities during treatment or when a child is fatigued can create a negative association or aversion to the activity.
  • Two young girls doing arts and craftsHave them choose! Provide different art forms like drawing or painting. Having a say in the decision can feel empowering.
  • Let go of guardrails. This is a time for the child to get creative and make up their own rules. It’s supposed to feel fun and encouraging.
  • Give positive reinforcement. Let them know that you value the work they’re doing. This shows that you care and can help increase your bond and their confidence.
Here to Serve Can Help

Art is one of the many therapies that can help families’ mental health along the cancer journey. At Here to Serve, support programs and their resource referrals can also assist families in finding additional mental health resources, financial services, transportation, lodging, organizational assistance, spiritual support, and more. Discover the many services Here to Serve offers. If you or someone you know has been recently diagnosed with cancer, have them reach out to Here to Serve to get help now!

By Emily Rogalin

All information on this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. Always consult a medical provider in your particular area of need before making significant changes in your medical decisions or lifestyle.

Back to School While Battling Cancer

Back to School While Battling Cancer

Learn About Alternative Options
Red apple on books

As summer vacation nears its end, it is time for students to return to school. However, this transition can be challenging, especially for children battling cancer. During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, online learning provided flexibility for children battling cancer, allowing them to attend class from the comfort of their homes or hospital rooms. However, many schools are resuming in-person learning. This means rethinking how to continue your child’s education. With trips to the hospital and needing sufficient time to rest, continuing your child’s education in the classroom may not be as easily manageable as before. For children who are hospitalized, it can be challenging to have a sense of normalcy in terms of school. Since many children battling cancer spend a significant amount of time in hospitals, adjusting to the social environment of returning to school can be difficult. Your child may also have medical needs that are challenging to accommodate in a traditional campus environment. To address these challenges, parents can explore alternatives to in-person school or find solutions to best support their child’s academic journey.

Alternatives to In-Person Learning

There are alternatives to returning to in-person learning for children who still physically can’t return to school.

  • IEP (Individualized Educational Plan)– An IEP or 504 plan is a program designed by parents and teachers to meet the individualized needs of the student best. Schools often offer these programs at no additional cost. The plan sets specific goals for the students while also providing learning accommodations. It can and usually does continue after treatment ends, and your child returns to school full-time. Be sure to schedule a reassessment once your child returns full-time.
  • Homeschooling– Children who are having trouble returning to school, whether for medical or social reasons, can start by homeschooling. Parents can create a more flexible schedule and spend more quality time with their children.
  • Private Tutor– Parents can also hire a private tutor to support their child’s academics. Private tutors hold expertise in certain subject areas and have the advantage of personalized and flexible learning as opposed to traditional schools. However, hiring a private tutor can be expensive and require more financial support.
  • Online Classes– Students can attend online classes anywhere as long as they have a computer and internet access. With online learning, students can enjoy the benefits of being able to revisit learning material and the flexibility to complete assignments in their own time.
Back to School written in chalk

Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi: https://www.pexels.com/photo/green-and-gray-scissors-2831794/

Returning to the School Campus

With proper planning, returning to school can be smooth. Here are some precautions to ensure your child’s best possible learning experience:

  • Meet with the principal, counselors, school nurse, and teachers to let them know what to expect and when your child might be returning full-time. There may be forms that need to be filled out. Let them know about any medicine or health equipment your child has and how to handle emergencies or problems.
  • Your child may not have the energy for a long day of school. Help them build up their stamina leading up to the start of the school year. Take walks and see what your child can and can’t do. They may also need to be excused from certain physical activities and allowed more time on assessments.
  • It is also normal for your child to be nervous about returning to school, and there may be feelings of hesitation. Make sure to understand the reasons behind them. Consider contacting your child’s healthcare team, teachers, psychologists, social workers, child life specialists, or school counselors for guidance. Make sure school administrators and teachers know that your child needs to be treated like everyone else, except for special needs. Make sure special needs are not exaggerated or highlighted to embarrass the student.
  • If your child is having trouble with the social aspect of returning to school, you can prepare them by letting them know that the other students may not be familiar with cancer and have a lot of questions. Give them examples of how to respond to questions they feel uncomfortable answering and have teachers and nurses there to support them. You may want to take the time and invite classmates over to your home so they can have more close and friendly interactions with fun activities that don’t require a lot of physical endurance on the part of your child.
  • There is an excellent additional resource for information about returning to school as a cancer patient or survivor from the American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/children-and-cancer/when-your-child-has-cancer/after-treatment/returning-to-school.html
Have You or Your Child Recently Been Diagnosed with Cancer?

Here to Serve is the only national nonprofit offering wrap-around services to navigate the personal side of the cancer journey. You have doctors and hospitals who can help with the medical treatments, but where do you get help with finances, household needs, and other resources you may not be aware of? Here to serve offers you a Family Care Coordinator and a customized online platform for friends and family to join in signing up to help with a multitude of tasks. They also offer hard-to-find resources for just about anything you may need. You only need to ask your Family Care Coordinator! If you are a family with children impacted by cancer, please contact Here to Serve. Our team is here to help you navigate these challenging times and provide support. Please click the Get Help button on our homepage. Our team wishes you a joyous end of summer and an exciting new school year!

By Erin Li

What About Me? Caring for Siblings of Children with Cancer

What About Me?

Caring for Siblings of Children with Cancer

Young older brother with his sibling with cancer

It’s summer and you are excited about all the plans your family has for vacations, time with friends and siblings exploring uncharted territories, or backyard fun tent camping with smores, or even eventually working up the nerve to jump off that diving board in the town pool! But, just like an unannounced and unwelcome mosquito or bee bite, cancer decides it has other plans for your brother or sister, and your world turns drastically upside. Cancer sucks!

Siblings of children with cancer need emotional support to navigate and make sense of lifestyle changes when a family gets a cancer diagnosis. They often get caught in the middle of newly fluctuating time spent with a child battling cancer. Here we discuss ways to keep relationships between siblings and parents harmonious and balanced while going through the cancer journey.

Explaining a Cancer Diagnosis

Family talking on couch

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

It can be scary and traumatizing for children to witness the declining health of their once energetic sibling. As a parent, it’s essential to take time to explain cancer to all members living with a patient because the reality is that cancer is not just some temporary virus or bacterial infection that might go away quickly. It’s understandable that, as a parent/caregiver, you might worry that your children will be too upset or that they are too young to understand. However, we can all agree that children in the 21st century are well equipped to quickly pick up on issues in a household, so explaining early and honestly is essential. All your children should be included in conversations about cancer to prevent any potential feelings of anger or mistrust towards parents.

Tools and Ideas to Talk to Your Child’s Siblings at Diagnosis:
Mother talking to troubled son

Photo by Kindel Media from Pexels

Just Talk

For older siblings, explaining the science behind cancer may be an effective way to keep them in the loop and have a practical outlook on their brother or sister’s cancer diagnosis. Knowledge is power; the more children have, the more equipped they will be during cancer treatment. Keep siblings up to date on doctors’ appointments and outcomes. It might also be a good idea to practice role-playing with siblings so that they feel comfortable talking to a sibling with cancer. Siblings might isolate themselves from the family because they don’t feel included and don’t know exactly how to talk about it. Encourage regular conversation about cancer between siblings. Check out this great video created by National Geographic on the basic science behind cancer.

Mom reading with daughters

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Books and Activities

Explaining complicated human body mechanisms might not be the best way to explain cancer to younger siblings. However, it’s good for them to know what’s going on at a very young age so they understand why they may not be getting the same attention before cancer. A great way to talk about cancer is through books and activities that cater to young readers. Here are some great ones to check out!

Girl holding tennis racket on the court

Image by RODNAE Productions

Keeping Life Normal

The last thing you want siblings to feel is forgotten after a cancer diagnosis. From toddlers to teenagers, children can absorb feelings of loneliness and isolation when the normalcy of their lives is drastically changed. To make the transition easier and help siblings also understand why everyday routines need to change, it’s a good idea to explain early and often. Though it might be an extra balancing act for parents, it’s likely worth keeping school and extracurricular schedules as unaltered as possible because these are places children spend most of their days. For example, keeping tennis, swim or soccer practices a priority for your non-cancer child is essential so they know their needs are being met outside the home. It will make it much easier for them to adjust to changes in the home. It can be tricky for caregivers to shift energy between a sick child and paying attention to other siblings. There is help out there! Read the last paragraph! Without help, your biggest hurdle will be having enough energy to spare. However, children are resilient and help is available. Children will understand when attention needs to shift to a sick sibling, even if they may not like the idea of compromising their time. But even just a 10-minute conversation makes a difference.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, scheduling at least 15-30 minutes a day to spend uninterrupted time with your child can significantly affect how they cope with having a sibling with cancer.

  • Have a conversation with a snack about their day and ask about the best and worst parts.
  • Read a book together, watch a fascinating YouTube video, or have them show you something funny on social media.
  • Take a quick walk around the neighborhood to get a break from being inside the home, where things have likely changed because of cancer care requirements.
Resources For Supporting Siblings

Siblings of children with special medical requirements that impact daily life will need time and patience to fully process and comprehend the new challenges and experiences that come with a cancer diagnosis. Even if they seem unimpacted or don’t show emotion towards the new environment, they likely feel something and may hide it internally from caregivers. Siblings may feel that their emotions are an extra burden. The best thing a parent or caregiver can do is to make time and remember to ask how siblings are, especially when they are quiet. The following informational resources are available to aid caregivers in answering questions and finding the right words to discuss this significant life change.

Guides and tips for supporting children through illness or injury of their siblings:

Need Support for Siblings? Contact Us!

If you are a family with a child newly diagnosed with cancer, or if you know of a family who finds themselves in this challenging situation, please contact Here to Serve. Their team is ready to help families navigate this challenging new world in light of a childhood cancer diagnosis and provide support in many different ways. Here to Serve helps keep normalcy for siblings as part of their programs. They make sure that all the children are cared for and are able to make extracurricular activities happen for siblings. Please click on the Get Help button from our homepage.

By Sameera Rangwala, M.S., M.P.H

About the Author

Sameera Rangwala spent 15 years in the biotechnology industry. As a scientist and research professional, she uses her skills to blog and provides words of support to the cancer community.

All content in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only.

The Power of Animal-Assisted Therapy

The Power of Animal-Assisted Therapy

Therapeutic Benefits

Baby cuddling with dogAre you a cat person or a dog person?

Even this question recognizes that most of us have connections with animals. This concept is known as biophilia, humans’ innate tendency to bond with animals. While biophilia is complex because of evolution and biological components, there’s no denying that animals often make life better and a little more manageable. In fact, a myriad of evidence has shown that our furry friends can provide therapeutic benefits.

Previous studies have shown that human-animal interactions can help release oxytocin (the feel-good hormone), endorphins, and serotonin and can reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) levels. Releasing these hormones could help reduce pain and anxiety while increasing relaxation for children undergoing cancer treatment.

There is so much to endure during the cancer journey, including physical, emotional, and mental health challenges. Some of the worst side effects of a pediatric cancer diagnosis include fear and stress, depression, and pain. The medical community widely agrees that nurturing animals may help relieve these symptoms.

In 2014, the International Association of Animal-Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO) developed guidelines for therapies based on human-animal bond benefits, including animal-assisted therapy (AAT).

What’s involved in AAT?

AAT is directed by a trained professional and is defined as “focusing on enhancing physical, cognitive, behavioral and/or socio-emotional functioning of the particular human recipient.” Dogs are usually the primary animals used, although programs will adjust based on the patient’s needs.

Does it work?

Patients in a study that focused on pediatric cancer patients also reported a decrease in pain, irritation, stress, and a tendency towards the improvement of depressive symptoms. Caregivers and healthcare providers also felt the benefits, too. AAT helped caregivers improve anxiety, mental confusion, and tension.

Cancer patient with his dog

This is a cancer patient, Chris Vega, right before his transplant with his precious lab by his side, providing comfort and love.

AAT was also proven to distract patients and families successfully by changing the focus of symptoms and procedures. In fact, it was more effective than other methods of distraction in a hospital setting like reading, interaction with volunteers, or recreational activities.

More quantitative research is needed regarding AATs effectiveness in a pediatric cancer setting, but studies to date show promising effectiveness. Of course, animals are a build-on therapy and can’t completely cure. Still, they can be a therapeutic distraction while providing a sense of unconditional love, support, and safety when things feel incredibly overwhelming.

How Here to Serve can help

Here to Serve can help throughout the cancer journey. If you are interested in AAT, we can help source AAT programs that are right for you and your family. In addition to sourcing support services and other resources, Here to Serve provides Family Care Coordinators, an online custom care community where friends, neighbors, loved ones, and the community can assist with home needs. They also help with financial needs. Enduring a cancer diagnosis for you or your child can feel unmanageable and isolating, but you don’t have to go through it alone. If you or someone you know who has children and was recently diagnosed with cancer, Get Help today with Here to Serve.

By Emily Rogalin

Pediatric Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL): CAR T-Cell Therapy to the Rescue!

Pediatric Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL): CAR T-Cell Therapy to the Rescue!

Learn About Immunotherapy


Image Credit: Blausen.com staff (2014). “Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014”. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436.

The Science Behind CAR T-Cell Therapy

Though it’s true that, in some cases, our bodies can spontaneously and furiously turn against us, they are also purposefully hard-wired to guard us against ourselves. Did you know that your own body is one of the best defenses against most ailments and diseases, especially when it comes to cancer? In scientific terms, this is referred to as immunotherapy, and the word indicates using your immune system to treat you. Over the past several years, immunotherapy has been used to harness a patient’s immune system to attack cancer.

Racing the front line of immunotherapy is Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-Cell Therapy, otherwise known as CAR T-Cell Therapy. That may seem like a mouthful of a name for a potential superhero cell that gets recruited into the immunotherapy army right from your own body “marrows.” The term chimeric means something new formed  from “parts.” T cells are a type of white blood cell part of the immune system and develop from stem cells in the bone marrow. They help protect the body from infection and may help fight cancer. T cells are taken from a patient’s blood in this cancer treatment. These cells are genetically modified to express a protein that recognizes and binds to a target called CD19, found on cancerous B cells. These new chimeric patient T-cells are grown in a lab to produce large numbers of newly engineered patient cells. The cells are then injected into the patient like well-trained cancer-fighting ninjas that will hopefully multiply and conquer inside your body. When the reprogrammed T cells are back in the patient, they flow throughout the body and begin locating cancerous B cells. Your body welcomes and recognizes the new cells as “living drugs” that will hunt and find the specific cancer they target.

Steps to T-cell therapy

Image Credit: Reyasingh56 via Commons Wikimedia.Org

CAR T-Cell Compared to Traditional Treatments

If CAR T-Cell therapy sounds like a new uncharted genetic innovation, it’s most definitely not. You can rest assured that scientists have studied this type of cell manipulation for decades. Many people might not realize that this innovative therapy is the culmination of more than sixty years of dedicated research utilizing knowledge of the immune system, genetic engineering, antibody therapy, and a deep understanding of the underpinnings of blood cancers. In the 1950s, understanding the procedure known as bone marrow transplantation aided the groundwork for developing this therapy. This was the first concept of infusing cells into blood cancer patients to control cancer and understanding that T cells have the power to kill cancer cells.

Several years of dedicated research led to the first CAR T-cell therapy, tisagenlecleucel-T (Kymriah™), getting approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on August 30, 2017, for the treatment of children and young adults 25 and younger with relapsed and refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Since 2017, six CAR T-cell therapies have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). All are approved to treat blood cancers, including lymphomas, some forms of leukemia, and, most recently, multiple myeloma. This therapy has proven effective in clinical trials, and tens of thousands of people have received CAR-T cell treatment. Many adults and children near death are now in remission, and some remain healthy more than five years after treatment.

So how do traditional chemotherapy and radiation compare? The initial development of CAR T-cell therapies focuses on the most common cancer in children, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). More than 80% of children diagnosed with ALL that arises in B cells, the predominant type of pediatric ALL, will be cured by intensive chemotherapy. But effective treatments have been limited for patients whose cancers return or relapse after chemotherapy or a stem-cell transplant.CAR T-cell therapy is approved to treat children and adolescents with fairly advanced B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), but not other leukemias or pediatric cancers. CAR T-cell therapy is an option for patients who have very resistant ALL. Cancer has come back once, but they can’t have a stem cell transplant because they aren’t well enough or don’t have a donor. Roughly 85% of ALL patients are treated very successfully with standard chemotherapy. For the remaining 15% of cases, representing many children in the United States, chemotherapy is reported as only working temporarily or not. CART T-cell therapy is not usually prescribed for newly diagnosed leukemia but only for patients whose leukemia is not responding to chemotherapy and whose disease has come back after a bone marrow transplant.

Cancer Families Should Know

The great news is that research on CAR T-cell therapy for a broader range of pediatric cancers at different treatment levels has continued. There are currently hundreds of ongoing clinical trials (mainly adult). Part of this expansion is a product of researchers having identified additional markers on cancer tumor cells that might be good targets for CAR T-cells. However, you should understand a few things about this immunotherapy and its accessibility when doing your own research on options for your child. According to medical and scientific experts in CAR t-cell therapy, four key issues make developing CAR T-cell therapies for pediatric indications a unique challenge.

Firstly, cancers in children don’t always act or respond to therapy the same way as in adults. In addition, the spectrum of malignancies that affect children is unique, and some are rarely seen in adults. For example, children with cancer often have aggressive diseases with more challenging characteristics. Second, since the pediatric population needing treatment for some cancers is so small, it is challenging to get pharmaceutical companies to invest in technologies for pediatric malignancies. A third challenge is that CAR T-cell therapies are labor-intensive and take a long time to develop in research and subsequent manufacturing. The same cancer therapy designed for adults may not necessarily be used for children. Finally, a lack of target antigens (markers) can hinder the development of CAR T-cell therapy for children. However, despite the challenges, including a lack of economic incentives, several clinical trials are examining CAR T-cell therapies for pediatric cancers.

To learn more about some of the current pediatric cancer trials using CAR T-cell therapy, check out the studies below:

  • City of Hope: Investigational CD123-directed CAR T-cell therapy for patients older than 12 years who have relapsed or refractory acute myeloid leukemia or persistent/recurrent blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm. Clinical Trial #: NCT02159495
  • Novartis Pharmaceuticals: Examining CAR T-cell therapy as a potential solution to the problem of persistent minimal residual disease (MRD) after front-line chemotherapy. Clinical Trial #: NCT03876769
  • Novartis Pharmaceuticals: evaluating CAR T-cell therapy for children with high-risk relapsed or refractory B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma who have poor survival and overall response rates after conventional salvage chemotherapy. Clinical Trial #: NCT03610724
  • National Cancer Institute (NCI): evaluating a CD22-directed CAR T-cell therapy as second-line treatment for children and young adults with relapsed or refractory B-cell malignancies. Clinical Trial # NCT02315612

If you or a friend or loved one has had a child recently diagnosed with cancer, please reach out to Here to Serve for help. Here to Serve provides practical wrap-around support to families who have a child or parent of a child(ren) diagnosed with cancer. Here to Serve is here to help!

By Sameera Rangwala, M.S., M.P.H

About the Author

Sameera Rangwala spent 15 years in the biotechnology industry. As a scientist and research professional, she uses her skills to blog and provides words of support to the cancer community.

This publication is for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions regarding a medical condition and appropriate treatment.