Spring Newsletter 2021

At the end of 2019, Eden, now four, suddenly started to have difficulty walking and complained of pain to her mother, Victoria. Victoria took Eden to the hospital where it was determined the three-year-old girl had Acute Lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), a blood and bone marrow cancer.

The diagnosis was a shock to Victoria, and the single mother of three in the Bronx feared Eden’s illness would break her. To her relief, the hospital social worker introduced her to Friends of Karen.

“I could leave the hospital at ease knowing I’d be helped,” Victoria said. ”I don’t have help from family members, but I learned that people were there for me.”

Friends of Karen provided financial support for transportation to the hospital and childcare for her other children, Erin who is seven years old and Elam who is three years old, when Eden had doctor appointments. Victoria also knew her children needed support, so she and Friends of Karen Sibling Support Specialist Jane discussed how the diagnosis would affect the entire family. Jane worked with Eden’s oldest sibling, Erin, virtually to discuss her feelings about her sister and the pandemic.

The Sibling Support program focuses on the emotional needs of the well siblings in the family, and sometimes the ill child as well. Sibling Support is provided by child-life specialists and creative-arts therapists to help the ill child's sisters and brothers understand the illness and develop strategies to cope with changes in their family’s life, using art, music, journaling, play and other appropriate means to work effectively with children from age five through the teens. While these services are usually provided in the home, during COVID-19 Friends of Karen staff has worked with children remotely.

During this time, Victoria recognized the need to take control over what she could control. Erin was going to be turning seven, and had shown a lot of progress and resilience. Victoria wanted to celebrate Erin, so she put together an art themed birthday party for Erin’s siblings and cousin, and hosted a Zoom sing along for others to attend.

It wasn’t just Erin who found inner strength through such a difficult time. Victoria is grateful for the help her family received, and decided to follow Friends of Karen’s example by supporting others. She recognized ways that she was able to comfort Eden during chemotherapy treatments and she gathered similar items to create Chemo Bags for five other ill children receiving treatment, and plans to help more in the future.

“Each Chemo Bag contains a customized shirt, socks, beanie hat and water bottle,” Victoria said. “The shirts have a zipper in the upper corner to allow access to ports easily, without having to change into a gown. I customize the shirts myself with empowering phrases. I want to give back because I have received help - because that’s right thing to do.”