When a parent with younger children is diagnosed with cancer, he or she quickly realizes that the challenges faced in raising children are very different from those of other families. Even when the family's current group of friends is very involved and supportive, it may not be enough.
"One of the greatest gifts families receive when they participate in our programs is an introduction into a new group of families who really 'get' what it means to parent through cancer," says Missy Lundquist, co-director, Facing Cancer Together.
For some families, like the Greenes and Gravett-Ackers, the introduction leads to a special, long-lasting connection.
"Although Lynn and I have a different cancer, we have the same struggles." - Sarah Greene
"Our stories seem so much alike," says Lynn Gravett-Acker, who was diagnosed with adrenal cortical cancer in 2007. She and her husband Tony have three children--Carter, 11, Joshua, 9 and Zack, 8. Lynn's family and the Greene family met last year at Angel Foundation's Winter Retreat. Both young families are dealing with a mom living with a cancer diagnosis. Sarah Greene was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. She and her husband Michael have two girls, McKenzie Grace, 12 and Emma, 9.
While the couples had met each other in Angel Foundation support groups and their children had played together at Kids Kamp the summer before, they finally connected at last year's Winter Retreat.
"When we started talking, we realized how much we had in common," says Sarah. "Although Lynn and I have a different cancer, we have the same struggles with paying medical bills, being tired or being sick and unable to care for our children...and feeling guilty about that."
There is also the commonality of being so young. "When you come into a marriage," says Lynn, "you never expect to be facing the possibility of being 30-something and dealing with these issues; you think of cancer as an older person issue." She says, "Sarah can relate to this and that's a comfort to me."
Sarah says it's special to have friends who know what is going on at your house. She says, "people who haven't experienced it, don't really connect on that same level."
"I know this friendship sustains both families bringing them comfort and a lot of laughter as they navigate their way through this cancer experience and beyond," says Missy. "It is a powerful example of how important it is for families facing a parental cancer diagnosis to find one another. It lightens their load and strengthens both the parents and their children."
"The Greenes are family that we chose," says Tony. "They were blown in by angels."