Posts Tagged ‘adopt a family’

Simple Gifts

Emory Healthcare Market Services Team

Chatting before the start of an editorial meeting, Lynne Anderson told us about a family she had adopted through Winship’s Adopt-A-Family program, one supporting needy families stricken by cancer.  My colleague Morgan and I were so moved and unexpectedly brought to tears by the story (I didn’t even have tissues ready!) that we proposed our marketing team adopt a family as our group’s annual holiday community building event.  Everyone readily agreed – and even better to be helping members of our own Emory community.

While participation was voluntary, it wasn’t surprising that we had 100% participation from our team. After all is there a more noble cause then helping a family in need when confronted by a life-threatening illness? Even though we weren’t able to fill every wish on our family’s list, we were able to provide enough so that every member of the 6-person family, whose patriarch is battling pancreatic cancer, would each have a few gifts under the tree and also provide a gift card to help with daily expenses. In addition to helping a family, it gave our team a chance for fellowship as we gathered to wrap gifts and enjoy a few moments away from the hectic pace of the busy work day.

Our whole team got to benefit from the joy of giving, but I was honored to be the one to deliver the gifts to the family.  The mom and granddaughter greeted me at the door when I arrived. The rest of the family simply enjoying each other’s company sitting by the tree, catching up on the daily news or finishing the day’s homework. They were gracious accepting our humble gifts.  The youngest among them already delighted to play with the colorful bows.  I didn’t stay very long, but I was there long enough to feel the love in the room and their appreciation for a group of strangers who wanted to bring a little joy to their family for Christmas.

As I was driving home down winding country roads and gazing out over the serene rolling hills, Aaron Copeland’s Simple Gifts movement from his ballet Appalachian Spring popped into my head.  Da dum, da da dum dum, da da dum, da da dum…. I have been humming, singing the simple beautiful tune ever since, thinking about this family.  I hope, dare I say I know, we brought them some extra joy and blessings for the holidays.  But I just can’t stop thinking, what happens to this family on December 26th or February, March, April? Long after the decorations are put away and we go about our daily lives with the giving spirit of the season left behind us for another year, what happens to this and other families still in need?

Unfortunately long-term survival rates for pancreatic cancer patients are bleak with the 5-year survival rate barely reaching 6%1.  While I desperately hope otherwise, I know even tougher times are ahead this family as the dad’s cancer progresses.  When he can no longer work, who will be there to help?  And how will they pick up the pieces and move on when the inevitable happens?

While little can help ease the emotional struggle, at least there are options to help with financial hardship.  I was pleased to learn that Winship has a patient assistance fund to help families-in-need year-round.  So as you are considering your new year’s resolutions for 2012, instead of making empty promises to yourself, why not consider how you can help extend the holiday spirit throughout the year?  Whether it is donating funds to a program like Winship’s Patient Assistance Fund or by volunteering at a soup kitchen in the spring, there are many simple ways to help families in need throughout the year.

Our simple gifts mean much to these families. So now instead of feeling down as I hum my the shaker tune, I am hopeful and reminded of the joy givers and receivers find in simple gifts.

Simple Gifts (By Elder Joseph Brackett Jr., 1848)

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free, ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right,’Twill be in the valley of love and delight.When true simplicity is gain’d, To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d, To turn, turn will be our delight ‘Till by turning, turning we come round right.

How Can I Help?

If you’re interested in helping a family of a cancer patient not just during the holidays, but year-round, the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University’s Patient Assistance Fund helps provide assistance to families throughout the year. Please use the link above for more information, or contact Mark Hughes by phone at: 404-778-1288 or via email at:

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Adopt a Family Helps Boost Holiday Spirit for Families of Cancer Patients

Adopt a Family Program EmoryThe list reminded me of something from a storybook I had read in first grade.

The book was called “The Littlest Angel.”  It was about a young angel whose humility and innocence led him to believe that a humble gift offered to the baby Jesus was inadequate.

His gift– a small box with a golden butterfly, a blue bird’s egg –  had been all the little angel had in Heaven to remind him of his earthly home.  And it had brought him such peace and happiness, because he had been so homesick! Yet he had been willing to part with it.

After he placed his box among the dazzling array of gifts offered to the newborn, however, his face burned with embarrassment as he cried hot tears, thinking that his gift was inadequate. As it turned out, it pleased God the most because it came from a humble, pure and true heart.

I saw a list recently that didn’t contain humble gifts a child was giving but rather humble gifts that a child hoped to receive. It evoked the same thoughts and feelings I had felt years ago when I read the list of contents of the box of the “The Littlest Angel.”

It was a list from families and kids in Winship Cancer Institute’s “Adopt A Family” holiday program. Winship’s coordinator of volunteer services, DaVida Lee Williams – an angel herself — works with Winship social services director, James Hankins, to identify patients at Winship who need help at the holidays providing their family with presents and food and some well-deserved good cheer.

Now, first off, I can’t imagine the horror of having young children and having cancer.

I can’t begin to imagine what it is like to be a child whose mother or father has cancer as the holidays approach. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a mother or father with cancer and to know I don’t have money to buy presents for them.

Too often, however, I know that “poor” and “cancer” intersect. And Winship tries to help, to connect those with an interest in helping these patients to these patients so that families of cancer patients can experience some joy at the holiday.

I looked at the book of families to see where I could possibly help. Suddenly, as I saw the requests – and I can say that most all are unbelievably humble — the theoretical became real. The names weren’t just names, they were people struggling with a horrible illness and their family members who might not have presents to open and enjoy at a time of year when so many others. And the requests were all so humble. A Bible. A blanket. A set of sheets.

I was most taken with one family of a single mother and two teenagers.

We all hear about how self-absorbed teenagers are. So I wouldn’t have been surprised had the teens dared to ask for an iPad, an iPhone or even a TV. Shoot, with a very ill mother, I might have been tempted to pull out all the stops and shoot for the moon, ask for a car, a trip to Disney. Nope. None of that.

Here’s what the kids listed:

  • “Socks.”
  • “Underwear.”
  • “Hat.”

Can you believe that in 2011 that there are young people who would ask for so little? Can you believe that there are kids who, even when their mother is ill and they might have all the reason in the world to feel cheated and bitter and angry, would show such purity of spirit that they just want their feet and heads to be warm?

These teens may not be the littlest angels on Earth, but they are certainly some of the sweetest.

The other cases I read about were similar. Maybe cancer has taught the families not to hope for too much. Maybe the families are braced for a holiday that just won’t be too bright, or maybe they have learned how to be joyous in the face of supreme sadness.

While the needs of many of the families have been addressed during the holidays, there are still families who need help year round. In our next post, we’ll discuss ways you too can help.

Author: Lynne Anderson, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

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