Wilmington family battling childhood cancer in midst of COVID-19, nonprofits give support despite fundraising challenges

Written on November 12, 2020

By Kendall McGee| November 12, 2020 at 8:33 PM EST – Updated November 24 at 4:50 PM

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – About 20 children in the Cape Fear region will be diagnosed with cancer this year, according to a local nonprofit.

A pandemic doesn’t stop families like the McCallums from getting that news either.

Graclyn was diagnosed at two and a half years old with leukemia. The now 3-year-old likes playing with her mother’s makeup, playing on her scooter and laughing with her older brother. Her infectious smile makes you forget that under her sweet play clothes, there’s a 3/4 inch needle inside of her for doctors to connect her chemo drugs into.

Cancer is something already incredibly difficult on its own, but things have been even harder fighting during a pandemic.

The news came when Lauren McCallum and her husband’s small business, Flip N Fly, had to be closed during the pandemic. At the time, they were also pregnant with their third child.

Once Graclyns treatments began, Lauren and her five day old baby were the only ones who could be at the hospital.

The family has been traveling between Wilmington and UNC hospital each week ever since, and like other childhood cancer families, the pandemic has added more burdens to their plate.

“You just never think your kids gonna have cancer and then they do and it’s a nightmare and so there’s no profit organizations just helping with gas and hotel stays groceries toys they really do help us and they make this a little bit easier,” said Graclyn’s mother, Lauren McCallum.

Right now, things are more difficult for families fighting cancer. Ronald McDonald houses are closed because of the virus. Hospitals are asking that they check in two days before treatment for a COVID test. With only six cities offering treatment for kids with cancer in the state, most families in North Carolina are forced to drive long distances for care.

“It’s a nightmare that I wish no parent to ever go through, but the kids are strong and they’re resilient and honestly I feel blessed to even go through it now because I’ve learned so much and I’ve become so much more appreciative of organizations like Strut for Kids or Children’s Cancer Partners of the Carolina’s or even St Jude’s — the commercials that you see on TV all the time. I mean the only reason Graclyn has a chance at life is because of Saint Jude and the discoveries they’ve made over the years,” said Lauren McCallum.

Charities are lending a hand with their meals, hotels and transportation, but even the nonprofits are struggling.

“Childhood cancer doesn’t stop for a pandemic. Kids are still getting diagnosed,” said Amy Bedingfield, president of board of directors for Strut for Kids.

Strut for Kids helps families in the New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender county area walk through their journey fighting childhood cancer.

The Children’s Cancer Partners of the Carolinas is another group that assists families in their battle with cancer.

Both non-profits assist patients with transportation, food, lodging, financial help and emotional support for as long as they need.

“COVID has just decimated so many organizations and we’re not spared from that either,” said Laura Allen, the executive director of Children’s Cancer Partners of the Carolinas. “Funding is drying up and I think it’s become more and more crisis for our families and it’s not just children’s cancer partner families it’s families of many organizations.”

Cancer charities are unable to spend quality time with families in person like they normally would. Gifts and toys aren’t dropped off in person anymore, but mailed to their recipients. Camps for children battling cancer have been cancelled.

The fundraisers that pay for resources for families in treatment were either cancelled or switched to a virtual fundraiser this year. Allen estimates their group lost as much as $400,000 due to the cancellation of major fundraising events including their annual Burger Cook-Off, the Docs Who Rock concert and in-school Kidz in Lids events.

However, no matter the obstacles in their path, both nonprofits have still been able to come up with creative solutions to still help their patients.

“We had built up reserves for a rainy day and let me tell you what that rainy days,” said Allen.

The one thing about rainy days is sometimes they provide a rainbow of hope.https://8dd2e483b89b6e021f9db41aec05e891.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

“Hope is never needed when things are good hope is needed when things are dark and that’s why we’re here,” said Bedingfield.

How you can help:

-Register with Be the Match

The cure for blood cancer is in the hands of ordinary people. Learn more here.

-Donate Blood

Find out how, online here.

-Donate to a childhood cancer charity.

You can give monetary donations to Children’s Cancer Partners of the Carolina’s online hereYou can donate to Strut for Kids here.

-Volunteer your time

Strut for Kids is looking for new board members to join the team. Find out how to get involved here.

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