Commmunity Champion Spotlight
A Visit with a Friends of Karen Family
Briany, age 3, takes good care of her baby dolls Gabriela, Giovela, and Briana. And she loves Dora, a character who is—like Briany herself—equally chatty in both English and Spanish.
Unlike Dora, Briany was diagnosed as an infant with rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of soft connectives tissues. When Briany began chemotherapy in 2008, her mother Lucia took a leave from her job as a bookkeeper with the New York Police Department. That’s when the hospital introduced Briany’s family to Friends of Karen.
“Friends of Karen was the first hand that I had,” says Lucia. “Sometimes I saw myself in the dark. I had left my job. I was a single mother. They found so many ways to show they cared—not only in economic ways, but in every kind of support.”
Lucia’s Friends of Karen social worker visited the family in the hospital and at home after Briany’s surgery. When Christmas came, he asked Lucia to make a wish list of gifts for Briany, her sister Catherine (10) and her brother Brian (15). “That was such a big surprise for us,” recalls Lucia. “The other children knew we were in the hospital, they didn’t expect anything.”
Today, two years after completing chemotherapy, Briany is thriving. She still needs surgery to reconstruct her bladder, scheduled for this spring. But she is tall for her age and has a healthy appetite. When her mother returned to work after one year, Briany transitioned smoothly to daycare and made some close friends. And at home she has a new prized possession—a “big girl” Dora bed.
“I can’t find the words to say thank you enough to Friends of Karen,” says Lucia. Instead, she talks about pictures. “Every time I see Briany now it’s like, ‘Wow.’ When I look at her picture from before, her eyes, her hair, her skin—all of that is in the past already. She is so playful now, so happy.”