Local non-profit helps kids impacted by cancer even during a pandemic

Created: August 10, 2020 06:36 AM

(ABC 6 NEWS) - When COVID-19 hit in March, stay at home orders were issued and people were asked to practice social distancing. It was new to so many of us, but it is a familiar experience for people living with a compromised immune system. A local non-profit, Brighter Tomorrows, connects families impacted by childhood cancer, offering support during the tough times and the good times, and even during the pandemic. 

"We are all parents who have gone down the path of childhood cancer. And try to support one another," Brighter Tomorrows board member, and parent, Christa Keehr said. All the families apart of Brighter Tomorrows have experienced childhood cancer in different ways.


"My youngest daughter Hannah is a cancer survivor. So she has diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma when she was 2," Keehr said. "Our youngest our 2-year-old, just after her 1st birthday she was diagnosed with high-risk B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia," parent, Kari Lucas said. When children with cancer go through treatment, they face the same thing we all faced when the pandemic hit... staying home.

"When COVID hit it was definitely nerve-racking cause we didn't know how it affected kids let alone immunosuppressed kids. One thing that you find out really quickly is parents in this community, the pediatric cancer community, is that they already have mastered the art of socially isolating," Lucas said. 

For Kari, her daughter Harper, and the rest of her family, they are taking many precautions because Harper is still in treatment. "My fear of my husband or I getting sick because we do have to make sure that she gets her treatment every day, timely and correctly. Because we don't want to make any mistakes," Lucas said. These fears echoed by all of the parents in the group, Brighter Tomorrows. 

Even though Hannah is cancer-free, she still runs a high risk for infection."We have done this before. When she came out of her bone marrow transplant, for 100 days we could not take her anywhere," Keehr said.

You could say Hannah and Harper are experts at spending time at home, "We watch a lot of movies I'm not gonna lie. Especially with little ones. You know, just games, and board games and anything to keep them happy," Keehr said. 

And with no real end in sight to this pandemic, there are many worries, and questions from these parents. Something Brighter Tomorrows is trying to ease, with help from Mayo Clinic Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist, Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, "What we do need to worry about, and maybe some things we don't need to worry about. I can only imagine the hours of lost sleep and anxiety for all these families at this time." 

COVID-19 has not been as common in kids, but there is still a lot medical professionals don't know about the virus."The reports that are out there, most kids that are getting chemotherapy, and have gotten infected have actually done quite well. Many have been able to be treated at home and not needed hospitalization," Dr. Rajapakse said. And nobody knows what we can expect next.  "As we all know, kids get colds very frequently. So it is possible that they have some antibodies to those common coronaviruses that may be giving them some protection," Dr. Rajapakse said. 

Although there is not an answer for everything right now, Dr. Rajapakse says wearing a mask and frequently washing your hands can help keep you and those around you safe. "everyone, but especially these families. Really they should still be limiting their activities outside and in public to those things that are really necessary for them and their child," Dr. Rajapakse said. 

And from the families that have done this before, "We've got this, we know how to do this, it can be safe you can interact with each other in other wonderful ways and still support and love each other" Keehr said. With lots of things up in the air, these parents want everyone to know there is a Brighter Tomorrow. 

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