VALDOSTA -- A fledgling organization plans to ensure families are not faced with fighting a destructive and spreading evil alone.
Candlelighters for Childhood Cancer of South Georgia was founded by Barbara Childs, registered nurse and mother of a cancer survivor. In 1985, at the age of 3, her son, Daniel, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
"We lived in Las Vegas, Nev., which had similar circumstances as South Georgia in that there was no pediatric oncologist available nor was there a treatment center for the children diagnosed," she said.
Childs and her son were air evacuated to a medical center in Las Angeles, Calif., where they spent weeks fighting the common childhood malignancy. She described it as "an emotional drain."
"I remember the day Daniel was diagnosed," she said.
"There was a candlelighter parent (who) stayed with me while we waited for the air transportation. I don't even recall her name, just that she was there and assured me that childhood cancer doesn't always mean your child has been handed a death sentence. She comforted me, calmed me and made the diagnosis day a little easier."
That life-changing moment led Childs to form a lasting partnership with Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation, an international network of parent support groups. Having lived in Valdosta since 1997, she has encountered many families with children battling one form of cancer or another ... often all alone.
"... with the strong community support I've witnessed here in Valdosta, I am certain we will succeed," she said.
Candlelighters for Childhood Cancer of South Georgia work with children from birth through the age of 21 who either have cancer or have survived cancer. The organization also works with parents of children who are or have been treated for cancer, bereaved families who have lost a child to cancer, immediate and extended family members of a child with cancer, healthcare professionals, and educators who teach children with cancer.
"These families ride an emotional roller coaster and having someone (who) understands what you are going through makes the journey a little easier," she continued. "When you have someone who understands that there are days which are so hard and you need a shoulder to lean on, it makes all the difference in the world. Your life is never the same and no matter how close you are to your family and friends, no one understands better than those who are in the hospital with you or have a child diagnosed."
Candlelighters for Childhood Cancer of South Georgia volunteers visit children in hospitals, bringing a bag of toys for the children to pick from, and sit with parents. Volunteers also host monthly support groups and attend physician meetings with the families upon request.
"It is helpful for parents to be able to talk to somebody who has experienced the difficult battle with childhood cancer," Childs said. "They can offer empathy that no one else can."
Upon receiving a diagnosis, families are given a bag filled with adult toiletries, a digital thermometer, meal tickets, medical log book, journal, knitted blanket or quilt, stuffed animal, a prepaid calling card and more. This stuff helps make the transition from home to hospital easier.
Candlelighters for Childhood Cancer of South Georgia also offers financial support. Childs said a diagnosis of childhood cancer can often devastate a family financially.
"Life is never the same," she said. "(We) can fill the gap that insurance does not fill during times of crisis. We can assist a family with rent, food, utilities, and travel, just to name a few. We have been told that we have saved many a family from losing their home when they had no money and nowhere else to turn."
Tax-deductible donations of money, new toys, handmade blankets and pillows, grocery gift certificates, and prepaid calling cards are needed. Volunteers willing to give of their time are always welcome.
With Candlelighters for Childhood Cancer of South Georgia being a totally volunteer-driven effort, Childs said 100 percent of all donations received benefit area families.
For information about Candlelighters for Childhood Cancer of South Georgia, please call (229) 834-0987 or (229) 444-2277. The Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation national office can be reached by calling (800) 366-2223 or by visiting www.candlelighters.org.
To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call (229) 244-3400, ext. 255.
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