It all started in the oncology ward.
A few years ago, Family Reach CEO Carla Tardif was visiting Madi, one of Family Reach’s many children in the hospital; the little girl told her she was worried Santa Claus wouldn’t be able to find her this year.
“I heard Santa can’t find you when you’re not home,” Madi said. “He won’t be able to find me in the hospital.”
Tardif tried to explain that Santa could always find children, wherever they were, when she saw the girl’s mother, Shauna, shaking her head discreetly. They stepped out into the hallway and Shauna explained her situation to Tardif; she had told her daughter Santa couldn’t find her because she couldn’t afford to buy Christmas gifts that year.
The impact of that moment helped Tardif create Hope for the Holidays, a program set up during the holiday season that donates 100 percent of funds to families affected by cancer.
“Most families are under significant financial strain while battling cancer,” says Tardif. “One parent might stop working to take care of their child. They have all these extra out-of-pocket costs associated with treatment, a loss of income, and, in the meantime, they still have a mortgage, groceries, and childcare for their other children. Often, they’re unable to make ends meet.”
Tardif says that while the nonprofit organization typically provides financial assistance and tools to help these families stay afloat, Hope for the Holidays is different.
“Every parent should know the joy of picking out something special to make their children happy, of providing their family with a warm holiday meal,” says Tardif. “No child – especially one in treatment – should have to miss out on the magic of the season because of financial reasons.”
Leandro Taveras was only 8 years old when he was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia. After nearly three years of chemotherapy and radiation, Leandro was declared cancer-free. But the Taveras family was dealt two crucial setbacks: in 2014, his mother Katherine was diagnosed with stage-three pancreatic cancer, and in 2016, Leandro’s leukemia returned.
Leandro’s sister Sofia successfully donated bone marrow to offer him a chance for long-term survival – Leandro recently completed his fourth of five years at Northeastern with a co-op program in California, while Katherine received life-saving surgery and continues chemotherapy and radiation.
Juggling two cancer diagnoses and two children enrolled in college, Leandro’s father Jorge became the sole provider and caregiver for his family.
“The havoc created by an unexpected illness on a family is the ultimate life lesson in stress and crisis management,” says Jorge. “Siblings quickly mature and family members step up to their perspective roles, yet – even if you’re fortunate to have these support systems – the mental and physical exertion is devastating.”
Family Reach assisted with the Taveras family’s mortgage payment in addition to their involvement in the Hope for the Holidays program in 2016.
“Family Reach understands the complexities and emotional upheaval that accompanies cancer,” Jorge says. “We thank their community from the bottom of our hearts.”
Alexis Watson is a 2017 recipient of Hope for the Holidays. The part-time student and single mother was diagnosed with cancer soon after the birth of her son.
“Going through my cancer journey was bittersweet,” says Watson. “On the one hand, I just had my child, but on the other hand, I was spending at least three days each week in the hospital away from him. I was getting chemotherapy and then going home to jump into mom mode. It wasn’t easy, but I tried to stay optimistic about my situation.”
Now a healthy mom pursuing her dreams in school for dental assisting, Watson says she plans on buying her son, Jah’Cai, toys from his favorite show, the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and clothes for his first Christmas.
“It definitely lifted my spirits to know that my child will still be able to have a Christmas this year,” says Watson. “I think the hardest part of all of this was trying to adjust to being a mom and trying to take care of my health. I needed to make it another day, not only for myself, but for him, too.”
Hope for the Holidays allows individuals to make a general donation or commit to sponsoring a family. You can also create a personal fundraising page to ask friends and family to contribute what they can. Whether it’s $5 or $500, every contribution plays a huge part in helping families in need.
Hope for the Holidays offers families more than financial assistance; true to its name, it offers hope for families that have dealt with more than their fair share of hardships.
“Cancer may have slowed me down, but it never stopped me,” says Watson. “I actually go by this quote now: ‘Light can only be understood through the wisdom of the dark.’ The most important lesson learned through my experience with cancer is that anything can happen and I should take absolutely nothing for granted.”
Support families fighting cancer and give the gift of Hope for the Holidays: familyreach.org/holidays.
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