What to Do (and What Not to Do) When Your Friend’s Child has Cancer

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Each day in the U.S. 42 families receive a cancer diagnosis for their child or teen. Each day 42 Mom’s and Dad’s take on a whole new level of parenting, parenting a sick child.

September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

In June of 2014, my dear college friend Nadine was one of those 42 parents. Her 14
year old son was diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia. And not just a regular case of APML, Daniel’s case was extremely rare, like a few cases in the entire world kind of rare. Chemotherapy alone couldn’t save Daniel. He needed a bone marrow transplant in November of 2014. Nadine lived at the hospital with Daniel for 9 months in seclusion due to the high level of risk of germs that could harm Daniel’s new immune system. 

Daniel’s cancer wasn’t average. And Daniel himself was not the average cancer patient. He had an NFL radio show from his hospital room (yay for Ryan Seacrest and Seacrest Studio’s being in the Children’s Hospital of Colorado!) Daniel wrote a Frozen Let it Go parody song about the Denver Bronco’s called “Bronco’s Go” and made a video that won the contest and has been viewed on youtube almost 3 million times! (He is the young man in the orange baseball hat). Continuing his not average cancer adventure Daniel was invited by Make A Wish to announce the Denver Bronco’s first round draft pick at the NFL Draft in Chicago in 2016! 

Needless to say, it’s not an adventure Nadine would’ve chosen for Daniel and their family. When I asked her questions for this blog post, she was so awesome and even though it hurt to revisit the past she gave me some honest feedback about that time in her life. She said having a healthy CANCER FREE 17 year old Daniel sitting on the couch next to her watching his Sunday NFL made it easier to tackle my questions.

I asked Nadine to think back to the beginning of Daniel’s illness, and here’s what she said, “Of course it sounds cliché to say hearing the words ‘your child has Cancer’ is something no parent ever wants to hear, but honestly I don’t even remember that moment anymore. Sometimes it feels like yesterday, other times it feels like a million lifetimes ago. These past years have been a whirlwind with so many ups and downs.  To say we have been tested to the limits and had successes beyond our imagination would be only fair. But in between I almost lost a child, a marriage and family was torn apart beyond repair and more knowledge, compassion and resilience was gained than I ever thought possible.” Nadine Hailpern

When I asked her for advice for those of us who don’t know what to say and do when we see a friend or family member reeling from their child’s cancer diagnosis she had a few real life ideas for me:

  • Don’t ask. Just do. Drop off a gift card, take the siblings out for a fun day or night and just let them get some attention they need, check in on a spouse knowing they are coming unraveled too. 
  • Be thoughtful on visits, especially when visiting those with compromised immune systems.
  • Give the child/teen the support of their friends as much as you can.
  • Find some support for yourself! Momcology is an online support group geared toward Mom’s of kids with cancer.
  • Get involved! Buy that Love Your Melon hat, register at Delete Blood Cancer or request a Be the match donor swab kit and get on the bone marrow donor registry, donate your time and/or money to childhood cancer research, etc.

I asked Nadine if Daniel had any thoughts about what made an impact on him while he was ill and recovering, and in between watching football games, he typed this up for me:

There was nothing more valuable to me in the hospital than the outstanding kindness of the nurses. No matter what I needed, whether it be a blanket or someone to play Xbox with, they were always there to comfort me and make me feel better. In the hospital I would walk around the floor a dozen times a day. After I was out of the hospital though I struggled to stay active. I was still in isolation so I couldn’t go out without my mask. My best friend Aaron Bush would walk over to my house and walk with me around the block sometimes twice a day all so I could stay active. His going out of his way to come and help me out every day is an act of kindness that I won’t ever forget.” Daniel Hailpern

Click here to learn more about Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

To read more about Daniel, check out his blog at www.danielsspace.weebly.com

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Jennifer Rath grew up in a tower with long, magical hair and a pet chameleon. Scratch that. Jennifer traded her mermaid tail for legs in exchange for her voice. Sorry about that, one too many movies lately. Jennifer Rath is a stay at home mom of two little crazies; boy 7.5, girl 4 (going on 14.) Her husband is full time with the Minnesota National Guard (Go Red Bulls!) Jennifer worked for a large travel marketing firm in Minneapolis for 15 years before moving to Mankato 8 years ago. She prided herself on being able to pack for a 3 week work trip to Kenya or Peru or China in one small suitcase, but now fills the car to the roof for an overnight in Park Rapids. But she wouldn’t change a thing. Even if you offered her magical hair or a mermaid tail.