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How to Be Around Kids with Cancer

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He’s 17, with all the glimmer and hope of a boy who has just graduated high school. You can see it in his eyes, his smile. He’s going somewhere. Though life has not been kind to him these past few years, it’s still laced with promise and a dozen prayers.

He’s sick. Cancer struck him just a few weeks after he began his freshman year of high school. He’s warm and compassionate, the last person who should ever be told he will die. No one ever deserves such a diagnosis, though.

I’m just a middle schooler looking at this boy, wondering how he can keep such faith. He seems so normal. If you look past the frail body, the yellow-tinged skin, he is normal. How do you handle being around kids you may not ever see again? How do you cope?

Looking back now on all the years that I volunteered with the American Cancer Society, I sometimes wonder how I did it. Every year since fourth grade I went with my mom, who worked for ACS, to Camp OK Corral, a summer camp for kids who have cancer. It changed my life.

Being around anyone with cancer can shatter your heart into a million pieces. You want so badly to help them, comfort them, and ease their pain. It’s hard to handle, especially when it comes to children who still have so much of life that hasn’t been experienced.

The thing to remember is this: kids are still kids. This never changes, regardless of everything. Childhood is constant. Cancer can never take away a child’s inner kid. Be a fairy princess with them. Build a fort. Be Spiderman. Run, jump, play, and laugh with them. Remember what it was like to be their age and just have fun. They know that they’re sick, but they don’t need to be reminded of it. Let them feel normal and treat them as you would anyone else. They want to be loved.

Oftentimes, though, the cancer can make children too sick to run, jump, and play. Their immune systems can get too weak for them to be hugged and loved. Chemotherapy sometimes makes the body susceptible to infection and illness because it can cause a decrease in white blood cell count. Always ask the parents, hospital, or organization you are volunteering with if the child is “touchable” or not. It’s good to make sure you won’t unintentionally get them sick.

Just because a child is untouchable doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, though. Read books, make friendship bracelets, or have ice cream sundaes together. Talk about what a total hottie Justin Beiber is, or make plans to see the new Harry Potter movie in November.

Yes, your heart will break being around a child with cancer. It’s undoubtedly one of the hardest things to do, simply because it’s sad. You’ll find yourself wondering “why them?” They don’t deserve it. The question eventually shifts to “why me?” Why do I get this chance to live, while this innocent child will probably die?

These are questions no one can truly answer. The thing to do is just have fun with the kids. Let them live, listen when they talk, and hope that you have impacted their lives even a little. A little is all it takes, and in the end that makes everything worthwhile.

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About Kylee Gwartney