When parents learn their child has cancer they are immediately thrown into an overwhelming crisis. The child’s medical care team gives them a thick binder mapping out what the child’s treatment will look like for the next months or even years. But, no one gives parents a binder on how to cope with the many ways their child’s cancer diagnosis will upend their lives.

When a hospital social worker refers parents to Friends of Karen, no matter how much they are struggling financially or emotionally, they don’t often always call right away. Many times parents are trying their best to juggle everything on their plate, or they think someone else needs help more than they do.

The day they do decide to call, they will reach the reassuring voice of Friends of Karen Intake Coordinator/Case Manager Estel on the other end. Estel interviews parents to determine whether or not they meet the criteria to receive services. Spanish speaking families go through the interview process with Estel’s colleague Elvira. Those initial phone conversations are more than a simple screening interview, according to Estel.

“It’s an opportunity for a parent or guardian to share the details of what led up to the diagnosis and the very personal experiences they’ve had while taking care of their sick child,” Estel observed. “It’s a place to establish trust between the Friends of Karen staff and the families that we serve. It’s allowing a mom or dad to be heard during an extremely difficult time.”

Even if the child’s diagnosis is the same as in hundreds of other children we have worked with, every family and situation is different and each intake is done respecting that this family is unique.

During an intake, the information collected is used to help get an understanding of the stage the child is in of his or her cancer treatment, what the family structure looks like, and to discuss the family’s finances. This discussion is conducted in a way that is not too intrusive, but gives a clear idea of the state of the family’s finances prior to diagnosis and what they look like now.

Often parents don’t even have a quiet moment to participate in an intake. Estel has done intakes with parents who are in their car on the highway leaving the hospital, or on a city bus or train. Sometimes, they are in their child’s hospital room bathroom because that is the only place they can take a moment to themselves. After the intake interview, to complete the process she sends an application to the family either at home or to the hospital social worker if the child is in the hospital.

“To say that these parents are overwhelmed is an understatement, yet they are able to somehow find the words to articulate their situation and begin to access the support they need,” Estel said. “The entire intake process is more than just an introduction to the organization. It lays the foundation for what Friends of Karen will do to assist families.”