Five years ago Richland County resident, Yolanda Jamison, and her sixteen year-old daughter Kiersten Jenkins began an unexpected journey. They were not getting along so Kiersten had gone to live with her father. Then the week before Mother’s Day Yolanda received an urgent call. Kiersten was complaining about stomach pain and had gone to the emergency room.
Yolanda raced to Palmetto Health Richland to be with her daughter and the next thing she remembers is the words, “it’s cancer.” She didn’t hear anything else the doctors said that day. “All I could think about was that this was a mistake – my family just doesn’t do cancer,” shared Yolanda. Unfortunately it was true. Kiersten was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and immediately started receiving aggressive treatments.
Each year in the United States an estimated 15,780 children are diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is the number one killer of children in our country. And regrettably only 4% of federal cancer research funding is devoted to childhood cancers.
As you might imagine when a child is diagnosed their entire family is immediately thrown into crisis mode. Parents, like Yolanda, start the cancer journey by becoming laser focused on finding the best care possible for their child. Soon they are forced to face all of the other burdens that come along with this dreadful diagnosis.
Fortunately in North and South Carolina families have an amazing resource available to them. Children’s Cancer Partners is a nonprofit based in Spartanburg whose mission is to provide comprehensive support and loving compassion to families whose children are battling cancer. The organization’s caring staff and volunteers assure that these brave children and their families do not travel this frightening road alone.
Children’s Cancer Partners has four areas of support for families: Financial Support, Family Assistance, Family Connections and Camp Victory. For the past two years Kiersten and her family have benefited from many of these programs.
The financial impact of cancer is staggering. 83.5% of families with a child with cancer will experience some level of financial hardship. 75.7% of families will have at least one parent who needs to cut back on work or stop working all together. 67.3% of families with a child with cancer have health insurance through one of the parent’s employers. Often this insurance is canceled or changed if the parent has to quit their job.
Children’s Cancer Partners wants to ensure that families have the financial resources to get their child to the most appropriate care possible whether it is here in the Carolinas or a more specialized program elsewhere. Through the generous support of their donors they provide families with funds for travel, lodging and meals.
Yolanda shared several stories about how Children’s Cancer Partners provided them with financial support. “They supported us as we traveled back and forth to Emory University for Kiersten’s specialized treatments. There is no way we would have been able to make these trips without them. All we needed to do was keep our receipts for hotels and food and they reimbursed us. And they also provided us with gas cards,” explained Yolanda. “Who does this? When we started along this journey they didn’t know me from a can of paint, yet they lovingly helped when I had nowhere to turn.”
Throughout the year Children’s Cancer Partners hosts numerous events and activities to connect families and their children with others who are battling cancer. During these times together, parents receive support while children build friendships with their peers. Yolanda said, “ I don’t know how I could go through this without talking to other parents.”
Each summer, for the past 10 years, Children’s’ Cancer Partners has run Camp Victory, a unique 3-day experience for the children served by the organization and their siblings. Unfortunately Kiersten did not have the opportunity to attend Camp Victory, however, she has attended many of Children’s Cancer Partner’s other events. And she has made some great friends. “We have really gotten to know each other. We don’t just talk about cancer, but try to keep it positive and enjoy ourselves when we are together. We do normal things like go to the movies, have girls’ days or just hang out,” explained Kiersten.
Yolanda does not know what she and Kiersten would do without the support of Children’s Cancer Partners. “This wonderful organization is so in sync with us. Right when I need them the most, Carla our family advocate calls or sends a text to check in. I can’t imagine being on this journey without her and Children’s Cancer Partners,” Yolanda reflected.
Sadly as I finish this article Kiersten’s condition has changed and she has been placed in hospice care. While she is extremely tired her family has embraced this time. They recently had a huge celebration for Kiersten’s 21st birthday – several months early. And they took a special vacation in mid-March to the beautiful beaches in St. Augustine, Florida. Kiersten and her family have spent this time together building more memories and celebrating life. They have certainly traveled a long way over the past five years. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.