We know that a child’s cancer diagnosis affects the entire family unit. Everything else is put on hold while a child goes through treatment, and established family routines often come to a halt. That’s why ASK added a new Family Support Coordinator this year to add an additional layer of personalized support for our families.
Mary Jo Bell recently joined the ASK staff in this new position. She considers herself a helping hand to families during a time of stress and uncertainty. Mary Jo said “the essence of my job is focused on heart work with individual families. Heart work involves being an active listener and identifying the unmet needs or stressors impacting each family. I customize my work with each family to help support the entire family unit. My main goal each day is to provide practical support to families, and to remind them that they are not alone.”
Mary Jo has worked with children in a variety of settings as certified teacher, a volunteer teacher in Ghana, West Africa, and a long-term volunteer with two major hospital systems in Virginia. She also brings a special understanding about the needs of caregivers because she was long-term caregiver for many years.
Mary Jo is reaching out to our newly-diagnosed families to offer support through phone calls, cards, personalized care packages, and gift cards. We anticipate that she will be offering meal and house cleaning support to newly-diagnosed families, too, in the coming months.
While children are in-patient at the hospital, Mary Jo can provide in-hospital respite. Respite care offers caregivers an opportunity to leave the hospital for few hours to allow them to rest and focus on personal care. Mary Jo loves spending time with the children at the hospital, and she has enjoyed making her respite visits a special time for each hospitalized child.
In addition to services for ASK kids and their caregivers, Mary Jo is adding to our sibling support by hosting sibling-only events, including the Sibling Ceramics Party on the 24th (see below for details!). Siblings experience their own unique cancer journey, and we want to remind them that they have their own community, too.
We look forward to updating you on our family support services as they grow.
by Amy Godkin, Executive Director, ASK
On Tuesday, ASK joined sixty advocates from around the state for Childhood Cancer Awareness Day at the Virginia General Assembly. It was the culmination of months of work that ASK did as part of the Virginia Childhood Cancer Work Group with a goal of raising the level of care for all children with cancer in the Commonwealth.
Why did we take on this lead role in organizing this event and why do we think this is important?
It’s important that we keep the unique needs of Virginia’s young patients and survivors on the radar of our legislators and that they be included in cancer funding in Virginia.
Right now Virginia’s state budget includes $21 million for cancer funding and none of it is designated for children. We think Virginia can do better than 0%. Children are not just small adults. The same therapies won’t work and can’t simply be scaled down for their size.
Additionally, childhood cancer survivors need follow-up care. Two-thirds of them will require chronic life-long medical care as a result of the disease or its treatment. That’s why we’re working toward establishing a pediatric cancer fund here in Virginia.
What would dedicated funding do?
Right now Virginia’s hospitals and supporting nonprofits like ASK carry 100% of the burden of caring for our young patients and survivors. A dedicated fund would build upon this great care that is already being provided and help each community meet their greatest area of need.
ASK has been taking care of Central Virginia’s children with cancer for over forty years. Now we want to help raise the level of care for all pediatric cancer patients and survivors in Virginia. You can learn more and stay engaged with our advocacy efforts by visiting the Virginia Childhood Cancer Work Group webpage.
by Melanie Goodpasture
Every Tuesday and Thursday, four-year-old Micah Scales can be found at First STEP (Socialization Through Enriched Play) Preschool, a unique preschool held in partnership with First Baptist Preschool. The program is dedicated to serving pediatric oncology patients and their siblings. Like other children in his class, Micah is learning the alphabet and singing nursery rhyme songs. And like other children in his class, Micah is a childhood cancer survivor.
“We are young parents and had no support system while in North Carolina,” continues Sherrelle. “Our families are in Richmond, so when my husband, Micah Sr., left the military, we moved here to be near them and the pediatric oncology program at CHoR. Then we met the folks of the ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation and our lives changed forever.”
ASK support began as soon as Micah entered the ASK Hematology/Oncology clinic. Sherrelle and Micah Sr. immediately started attending ASK events. They family even moved closer to the First S.T.E.P. Preschool at First Baptist Church so Micah would not have to miss a class.
First S.T.E.P. Preschool is a unique preschool program for pediatric hematology/oncology patients, and their siblings. Staffed with a teacher and medical professionals familiar with pediatric oncology, First STEP is one of only two similar programs in the country. First STEP is fully funded by generous donations to the ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation.
“How can I help you, Mommy?” asks four year old Callahan. Like all pre-schoolers, Callahan loves helping his mom, wrestling with his two big brothers, and playing outside with his trucks. No one would ever know that Callahan is a two-year survivor of Ependymoma, a rare brain tumor typically found at the base of the brain.
When Callahan began vomiting and holding the back of his head, his parents knew something was wrong. “We initially thought it was the stomach bug, but then Callahan started sleeping for more than 24 hours at a time,” explains his mom, Stacey. “Our pediatrician ordered an MRI and the tumor was found immediately. Three days later, he had his first brain surgery to remove the tumor. It was the scariest day of my life.”
Here are three ways you can help to make the holidays brighter for our ASK kids and families:
1. Purchase a Toy for a Child
Help Santa get ready for the annual ASK Holiday Party on December 2nd where over 425 ASK kids, siblings and parents will attend. Purchase a new toy that is $25-$30 in price (no stuffed animals, please) and drop off the unwrapped toy by November 28th at the ASK office (5211 West Broad Street, Suite 102). We welcome your thoughtful gifts after that date, which we'll use for Santa's inpatient visits and to help our kids celebrate treatment milestones and birthdays throughout the year.
Not sure what to buy? Shop our Amazon and Walmart wish lists by using the links below. Also, our teens love gift cards! Their faces will light up when they see a $25 card to shop Target, Walmart, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or anywhere they choose with a VISA gift card.
2. Adopt-a-Family & Shop
This holiday season, ASK is planning to create joy for over 40 families of children with cancer in our community. Round up your family, friends or co-workers and help us make the wishes of an ASK family come true! Your generous gifts will alleviate stress while providing comfort to families taking care of a child with cancer. Here's how:
3. Don't have time to shop but want to help?
Make a holiday gift and let us do the shopping! A gift of $30 helps to buy a holiday toy for a child, $300 to adopt a family of two, $600 for a family of four and $1,000 will help us to make a mortgage payment or to pay a past due bill for a family who needs assistance.
On Sunday, September 9th, ASK and Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam honored thirteen of our brave patients and survivors with the help of WRIC's Morgan Dean at our Kourageous Kids Party at the Children's Museum of Richmond.
Our Kourageous Kids represent the more than 100 children currently on treatment in Central Virginia and the 500+ survivors in our community. Governor Northam also issued a proclamation declaring September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in Virginia.
"I think that we can always provide hope for children..for their families," shared Governor Northam. "And I remind people that if you take away one's hope you take away their will to live."
The Kourageous Kids exhibit is one way ASK is working to raise awareness about childhood cancer in our community. To see the exhibit, visit CMOR this week. Next week the exhibit moves to the atrium at The James Center until October 1st, then it will move to the Children’s Hospital of Richmond Pavilion until October 12th.
Alma Morgan is ASK's educational coordinator and director of summer fun. After planning and implementing 4 weeks of ASK Summer Camp, she sat down and reflected on her time spent with our ASK kids. We're grateful for all of our donors who help to make weeks like this possible for our patients, survivors and siblings.
A memory is defined as something we store or remember from the past; a recollection. As the fourth week of the ASK Summer Camp comes to a close, I can say that our patients and siblings will walk away with many happy, exciting memories of summer camp. While many of the children stated their favorite part of camp was making new friends, others shared their love of the various activities: Engineering for Kids, Laughing Yoga, Bricks 4 Kidz, Libbie Mill Library, Printing Studio Two Three, Rigsby Jig Dance, Johnathan Austin the Magician, and the VCU Pet Therapy Program.
As staff and educators at camp, we often think that we teach the lessons. However, after leading the morning discussion each morning at camp, I realized that the children are teaching us the lessons. They are teaching us that everyone needs a safe place to go and socialize in which the participants have shared similar experiences and have an understanding of what they have been through.
We have learned that the sibling may sometimes connect his or her identity to that of the brother or sister who had cancer. As one young man said, “The teachers want me in their class because Susie is my sister.” We had to make sure that this little guy knew that he was wanted in the new class because he was smart, kind, compassionate and a great kid, not because his sister had cancer.
We also learned that children often do not share their worries and concerns because they do not want to upset the parents. One child said, “I do not talk to my parents about what is bothering me because I do not want them to overreact.” I think overreact meant the same as get upset because these children have witnessed what it is like for parents to worry and become upset over serious, critical health issues. Children are protective and want to protect their parents.
Lastly, we learned that these children have many strengths and talents that often are not recognized. As staff, we watch in amazement as one breaks out singing with a voice of an angel, draws a picture that takes your breath away, writes a story that shows so much expression and creativity, or constructs a Lego structure that reminds you of an engineer.
Without a doubt, the four weeks of ASK summer camp will hopefully carry these children into the start of a good school year. When they report to school on the first day and have to share what they did for summer vacation, we hope they will share that they attended a summer camp for cancer survivors and siblings. At ASK Camp, they made new friends, played games, worked puzzles, did crafts, participated in various workshops, and left feeling loved each day. And as they grow older, may these memories of ASK Camp be stored as happy times and stay with them throughout their lives.
“Tiny leader,” “miracle,” and “dynamo” are just a few of the words friends and family use to describe Maiyah Tanner. Small in stature, but big in personality, Maiyah doesn’t let Diamond Blackfan Anemia get in the way of anything she’d like to accomplish. Diagnosed at 18 months, Maiyah is no stranger to clinic or treatment, and is proof that big things come in small packages.
This week ASK is kicking off its first Summer Enrichment Camp specifically for siblings. This is just one way ASK is supporting siblings who have a brother or sister going through treatment. Dr. Jennifer Rohan, Director of Psychosocial Clinic Care & Research (an ASK-funded position) at the ASK Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic at CHOR on why it is important to support siblings:
When a family member is diagnosed with a chronic illness, the illness impacts the entire family, not just the patient. Siblings of patients often report increased psychological distress, including anxiety/worry, fears, stress, depression, sadness, irritability, and anger. Siblings often report decreased quality of life. Some siblings may also expressed increased guilt that they did something to cause their brother or sister to develop an illness. It is very important for siblings to be given education about what to expect, how things may change, and have many opportunities to ask questions along the way. It also is very important for the entire family to maintain increased structure and daily routines so that things can remain “as normal” as possible. It also is very important to prioritize 1:1 time with both the child/adolescent who is sick, but also with children/adolescents who are healthy.
Siblings should be given lots of opportunities to engage in activities by themselves so that they can maintain some level of normalcy (when possible). Patients, parents, and siblings will often report feeling like their lives have been turned upside down so opportunities to forget about clinic visits, hospital visits, and illness are very much needed and appreciated for everyone! Siblings often benefit from support groups or being able to talk with other siblings who are going through similar things. The ASK Sibling Camp will offer all of this and more!
This week ASK is helping some of our rising high school juniors and seniors get a head start on their college application process through our first College Prep Workshop. This three-day program was organized under The Launch Project, our newest initiative aimed at helping teen and young adult survivors successfully navigate life after graduation.
Our survivors are completing their Common Application and developing their essays for submission through a workshop led by Rachel Loving of 1st Choice College Counseling.
College application assistance is just one way The Launch Project is encouraging the growth and development of our emerging adults this year. This fall we will be offer another workshop in partnership with Goodwill Industries that will focus on job seeking skills. We will cover topics like resume building, job application etiquette and interviewing skills. The Launch Project also continues to offer individual coaching to patients and survivors.
ASK currently has 22 participants in The Launch Project. If you’d like to learn more about the program, please contact ASK’s Launch Project Coordinator Britni Higginbotham at email@example.com.