When I was diagnosed with cancer right before my 18th birthday, I had no idea just how drastically my life would change. I was thrown into a new world that I knew absolutely nothing about. During those first 30 days in the hospital, there were times when it was really dark. My mantra was simple: "one day at a time." Sometimes it was more like "one hour at a time."
But, for however dark it got, there was always a light at the end of the tunnel. I had to keep going. It's been seven years since I was diagnosed, and cancer is still very present in my life in more ways than one.
While I was sick, I was so fortunate to have such a strong support system. Family, friends, and strangers rallied around us and showed up in big ways. Meals were delivered, groceries were purchased, cards were sent and even my bedroom got a makeover. There was one night, a few days after I was discharged from the hospital, that I will never forget. We were eating dinner at a friend's house when 25 friends snuck into the backyard and sang the song Lean On Me. That simple act of kindness and support still brings tears to my eyes.
Sadly, not every family has this kind of experience. In fact, it became clear to me that the majority of the families experiencing childhood cancer have little to no support. This is why I decided to start Lighthouse For Hope, a non-profit that strives to fight alongside those experiencing the physical, emotional and financial setbacks caused by pediatric cancer. Lighthouse focuses primarily on low-income families by providing them with assistance for day-to-day necessities. Working with social workers to find families that would most benefit from extra support, Lighthouse provides them with meals, gas cards, clothing, supplies and necessities that insurance doesn't cover.
Lighthouse For Hope isn't just about providing families with gas money. While paying for household expenses is important, we’re passionate about becoming a support system for children and families that otherwise would not have one. We become a light in the dark by advocating and supporting those experiencing the darkness that is childhood cancer.
When Lighthouse is sponsoring a family, the financial support consists of assistance for household expenses (e.g., gas cards, grocery cards, gift cards, etc.). In addition, we supply each family with a box full of supplies and gifts. The box usually includes clothes, paper towels, toilet paper, laundry detergent, dish soap, shampoo, conditioner, soap, blankets, wash cloths, socks, books, toys, diapers and cleaning supplies. Usually each family has a specific need as well. Lighthouse has provided families with tires, beds, strollers, school supplies and even a Christmas tree!
One of the first families we ever helped was just happy they had visitors! It turned out they had never had a visitor before.
Something that I get asked often is, "How can I help someone going through cancer?" My answer is always this: show up. Don't disappear for fear of inconveniencing them. They want to hear from you! If you are worried about saying the wrong thing, that's ok. Just don't stay silent.
Nobody likes asking for help, especially those who actually need it. A good way to help someone going through a difficult time is by saying you are going to do something specific for them and then actually doing it! Instead of asking, "Can I bring you dinner?" say, "I'm bringing you dinner on Tuesday! I'm thinking tacos." Instead of saying, "Let me know if you ever need a ride to chemo!" say, "I can drive you to chemo next week. What time should I pick you up?”
These simple differences in approach can make a huge impact and provide a much needed ray of light in an otherwise dark time. I have found that the best thing we can do for these families is to show up and fight alongside them. We can meet them where they are and be a light in the dark. At Lighthouse, we are determined to let these families know that nobody fights alone.
To find out how you can join the fight and help support the important work Lighthouse for Hope is doing, visit www.lighthouseforhope.org or purchase a Be a Light print from our Shop. 100% of proceeds from sales of this print will be donated to Lighthouse for Hope through November 30, 2018.
Hannah has made it her mission to be a light to others in times of darkness. She is the founder of the non-profit Lighthouse for Hope and a cancer survivor. You can follow along with their important work on Instagram or Facebook @lighthouseforhope.