Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
A Father’s Story

A Father’s Story

Manuel is the father of 14-year-old Rashelle, who recently completed treatment for Rhabdomyosarcoma, a disease in which cancer cells form in muscle tissue. Rashelle was diagnosed in 2021 and relapsed in July 2022 after this article was written. The family lives in New York City.

“When you hear the words, ‘your daughter has cancer,’ your world turns upside down. I couldn’t believe it. After the news, the doctors gave me all that information about the illness and about the treatment. They tell you you must travel to the hospital three or four times weekly for chemotherapy, checkups, blood transfusions, etc. At home, you must pay attention to side effects or fevers. It was overwhelming.

Then, you arrive home, still in shock, looking at the mail and seeing the bills. I couldn’t sleep thinking, ‘how am I going to do this?’ I am a single father and Rashelle’s mother, Emilia, lives in the Dominican Republic. I have family in New York, but everyone is busy with their jobs and lives. Suddenly I couldn’t work anymore because the idea of leaving Rashelle alone at home or in the hospital was unimaginable.

I kept thinking, ‘how would I pay the bills if I couldn’t work? What happens to others in my situation? How do they manage?’ On top of all my worries, things are a little more complicated for me because I have hearing problems and my primary language is Spanish. I explained my situation to the hospital social worker, and she told me to call Friends of Karen because they would help me.

I was so relieved when Friends of Karen paired me with social worker Natalia, who speaks Spanish fluently. Natalia is like an angel. It is not only about the financial assistance Friends of Karen provides, but Natalia also cares and always made sure that we are okay. Natalia made sure we could speak on video calls so I could read lips and we texted every week.

From the first time we connected, Natalia made me feel comfortable. During our first video call, she reassured me that from now on Rashelle’s health will be my only concern, and Friends of Karen will help take care of the bills. When Natalia asked me to send her the bills for our rent, electricity, and cell phone, I got quiet for a minute because I got very emotional. Friends of Karen took a weight off my shoulders, and I felt relieved. Because of Natalia’s work, Rashelle always had what she needed during her treatment, from clothes to a new bed.

Natalia also ensured that Rashelle received emotional support through other programs at Friends of Karen, including one-on-one sessions with the sibling support specialist Naomi and participating in the virtual teen groups. Without Friends of Karen, we would have lost everything I had worked for, including the apartment where Rashelle grew up. We felt safe because we knew Friends of Karen was there to help us. Natalia knew how to guide me through any question, concern, or problem; and how to find us resources. She took the time to be there for us every step of this journey.” — Manuel