SOUTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) – For children battling pediatric cancer and for their family, the novel coronavirus presents a special set of problems.
Due to the immune suppression caused by many cancer treatments, children with cancer are considered a high-risk group when it comes to the virus.
However, there are other issues someone not facing the disease might not consider, said Laura Allen with Children’s Cancer Partners of the Carolinas (CCP).
Most pediatric oncology treatment is done in large cities, so patients living in southeastern North Carolina have to travel to other parts of the state for care.
“They are taking long-distance travel to get to their treatment, so we make sure that their transportation, food and lodging is taken care of,” Allen said
From putting gas in the car to helping book an extended stay in a hotel, CCP is used to helping with the challenges that come with a pediatric cancer diagnosis, but Allen said COVID-19 has caused families to run into road block after road block.
From canceled flights to changes in hospital visitation policies, the virus is making things difficult.
“Right now unfortunately the Ronald McDonald houses are not accepting new patients, so we are working with those children to make sure that they have hotel accommodations in those cities,” Allen said.
Flights have been canceled, as have many follow-up appointments with specialists.
“We’ve had notes from parents and phone calls from parents just very distressed that they can’t get their child to their appointment, because that is the sense of when you’re in survivorship and you go once every six months or every three months, you were getting that reinforcement as a parent that your child is doing OK, or you know that there’s something not right there’s cell count is down or something,” she said.
Layoffs in many sectors of the economy have also made things difficult for families already facing the monetary hardship a cancer diagnosis brings.
According to CCP data, one in three families with a child battling cancer are unable to meet their basic needs because of that diagnosis.
“We are seeing those kinds of things where here our families who were already vulnerable because a two income family became one, maybe right now that one income may be compromised. It may be hours that have been cut back,” she said.
That’s where organizations like CCP come in.
Allen said she and her coworkers, while now working remotely from home, serve 1005 children and families who have been referred by hospitals to the organization.
“We are reaching out … making sure that their needs are being met, understanding with their challenges are, helping them with scheduling,” she said.
CCP efforts to raise money to support their services have also been stymied by the virus.
The annual “Kidz in Lids” campaign where children bring in a dollar donation in exchange for wearing a hat has been put on hold due to school closures, though Allen said she hopes there will be a way for them to still participate.
Of donations, CCP says 85 percent of every dollar is used for the financial support of families or providing services.
For more information, or if you are a family facing pediatric cancer, CCP has details on their website.
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Emily Featherston is a journalist with background in community reporting. She joined WECT in August 2018, and is a multimedia reporter focused on Wilmington’s local government.