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A MOTHER’S STORY: Finding Consistent Support


Ellis is a five-year-old boy who was diagnosed in 2023 with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. His mother Jennifer shares how the diagnosis and Ellis’s treatment affected her, her husband Eric, and their four-year-old son Jay.

“During the summer of 2023 things were going along well for our family. My husband Eric had just started a new job and I was doing well in my job as a physical therapist. Ellis got sick soon after, and there was a month of not having any answer to what was going on until a bone marrow biopsy came back conclusive for Leukemia.

Ellis’s diagnosis meant medical bills we weren’t prepared for, which in our case came with a complication. We were paying for our family’s health insurance out of pocket because we were on COBRA insurance until my husband’s benefits started at his new job. That meant neither of us could stop working completely during Ellis’s treatment.

Because this was a major issue, the hospital social worker encouraged us to apply to Friends of Karen for financial assistance. We had no idea that once we were connected to our Friends of Karen social worker Rhonda, they would be such an important support to us in so many other ways.

The best part of working with Rhonda is she calls often and it’s nice having someone that understands what we are going through. From the start she had a concrete list of things she knew we needed and was always a step ahead to predict what we would need next.

Friends of Karen helped with everything from working with us on applying to Medicaid for Ellis and arranging for Ellis to have a volunteer tutor so he was on track for kindergarten, to making sure we had gift cards to shop for Thanksgiving dinner and wrapping paper for the holiday gifts they provided for Ellis and Jay.

Rhonda had Melissa, a Friends of Karen creative arts therapist, work with Ellis for additional emotional support. Melissa also worked with Jay to help him understand what was happening in terms he could understand and help him with his feelings. Both boys also benefit from participating in the Friends Having Fun weekly virtual activity group since they have few chances to socialize while Ellis is immunocompromised.

Friends of Karen also makes a difference because they are with us for the long haul. We are thankful because, without Friends of Karen, we’d be struggling to make ends meet and I’d have to work more and not be able to be with Ellis. I think of Rhonda as our director of traffic to keep things going as smoothly as possible and she always has suggestions of how to handle things.”

— Jennifer