You plan a life for yourself and for your family. Some of us save for weddings, new homes; some of us even open a college fund for our children. The question I have for you is, how much do you save in case your child is diagnosed with cancer:

In May of 2012 my husband, Nick, and I sat surrounded by doctors and nurses. They explained that our 21-month-old daughter Athena had leukemia. Everything in your mind goes numb when you hear that your child has cancer, but the one word I remember hearing over and over again is NEED:

  • Athena will need to visit the hospital and clinic often during her three years of treatment.
  • She will need many different kinds of medication -- chemotherapy, steroids, anti-nausea medication and pain medicine, to name a few.
  • You will need to purchase gloves to protect yourself from chemotherapy while changing her diaper.
  • She will need physical therapy twice a week to help her walk again.

The list went on, and we were informed about everything our child needed to fight cancer. What we weren't told is how to get it. How does an already struggling family of five find the means to do these things for their baby? How was I supposed to leave my job to care for Athena when our incomes combined weren't enough to support our family? We were filled with worry and adding this stress on top of Athena's illness was unbearable.

It is so hard to have hope when things seem impossible. It's difficult to find strength when what you HAVE and what you NEED are two totally different things. 

An amazing woman named Marla arrived at our home shortly after we returned from the hospital. She introduced herself as a Friends of Karen social worker, but I quickly learned she was so much more than that. After a cancer family settles into a routine, it seems as though life goes on for everyone else. People have to work, bring kids to practice, travel, and you're stuck in this new life, and it's sad, depressing and really, really lonely. My family was fortunate to have friends to help us through. Marla was one of those friends.

There are so many components of Friends of Karen that make it uniqe, all of which were put in place to meet a child's most important NEED of all: 100% of their parents' love and attention. Friends of Karen enables parents to do the most incredible thing for their child: to simply be present and comfort them. Because of Friends of Karen I was able to be by Athena's side 24/7. They helped cover our medical expenses and household bills. People donated their time and money so that my children had school supplies and holiday gifts. And during a point in Athena's treatment when her brothers needed emotional support, a Friends of Karen arts therapist came to our home and worked with our boys, offering an outlet for expression and one-on-one attention -- something they lacked when I was caring for their sister.

To say that Friends of Karen helped my family is an understatement for they caringly guided us through the hardest three years of our lives. Because of donations to Friends of Karen by so many kind and generous people, faith, hope and strength were restored to our family and we were able to fight this battle.

Athena has been in remission for a year. She is a spunky, kind, energetic 5-year-old who will most definitely keep us on our toes. We have now entered what we call our new normal, trying every day to navigate between a life with cancer and a fresh start. I cannot imagine us being where we are now without the support of Friends of Karen.

Thank you for making it possible for Friends of Karen to help families like mine. Please remember that we are just one Friends of Karen story. Athena has shared hospital rooms and sat during chemo appointments with other brave Friends of Karen children. They may be different ages or have a different type of cancer, but they are all receiving what they need because of generous donations from people like you.

So on behalf of all the moms and dads who are fortunate enough to stay home and love and care for their child battling illness, I want to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You have given us a truly precious gift.

Note: This article is taken from Dana's speech at our 2015 Long Island Gala.