Last night was the dinner auction for the Inland Northwest Candlelighters. At these, they have table upon table of items that have been donated for the silent auction. Everything from gift baskets of candles or gardening items or wines or baby items. They had some beautiful antique silver sets and handmade blankets and quilts. My husband fell in love with the medeival gold and cobalt chess set. Absolutely gorgeous.

We got a complimentary photo that I’d scan in for here if it hadn’t somehow gone home with my mother in law.

So, when dinner started and they played a video of some of the kids and we did the candlelighting ceremony, honoring those children who’d gone through treatment for cancer, the families who’d stood by them, the doctors who helped them, and those who’ve already “grown their wings”, it was all I could do to drink my coffee and sip my wine without crying. It’s hard, but so necessary to be there for those moments.

When Craig and I had first arrived for the dinner, we were standing and visiting with one of the security guards. He’d had no idea what the organization was for. He could only assume something like Partylite or something. So I’ll state here what it is and who it is for.

We exist for every child who is diagnosed with cancer. We are an organization made up of survivors, parents, friends, and family members who’ve all had their life impacted by childhood cancer. That means babies diagnosed from birth to teenagers diagnosed at a time when their only worry should be what college to apply to.

When we first were admitted to the hospital, Craig, our daughter and I were there, every day, every night, every minute. We had friends who stopped by that first weekend, then once in a great long while over the next two years. We had friends who checked on us once a month. We had lots of people asking, “Is there anything you need? What can I help with?” Honestly, we had no idea. We didn’t know what we would face or what decisions we’d have to make. By the time the first few weeks were over, we’d closed in. Us three and the grandparents. A few other in-laws came by periodically throughout, but for the most part it was just us.

No one knew what to do for us. We didn’t know what to tell them. All we knew is that once the adrenaline rush of an immediate emergency wore off, other people could move on with their lives, but we were just starting. There’s no way an adrenaline rush will last for a year and a half for everyone we knew. But it did for us. A constant, never-ending, never-easing, exhausting state of emergency.

Candlelighters’ members understand that. They understand a lot. But for people who are more practical, there are other, more concrete things they help with.

1. Gas cards. We faced our first 2 years with an appointment every day of the week, all day on Fridays. We traveled from one end of Spokane to the other. Pool therapy up north, Physical Therapy two days a week in the Valley, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, all these were everywhere and we were doing it just as gas prices were hitting the roof. $80 a week in gas adds up quick. We were thankful every time we were handed a card. Last night, we learned Candlelighters gives out $1000 a month in gas cards, distributed among the hundreds of families at the Children’s Hospital who are facing childhood cancer. And so they took donations for $25 gas cards, totalling nearly $6000.

2. Groceries. Our first welcome package had a $10 gift certificate to a grocery store. It helped. We were living in our daughter’s hospital room. Thankfully the new rooms had a small refrigerater we could fill with drinks and snacks. Also, Candlelighters helps stock 2 Ronald McDonald Family rooms that have a small kitchen, sitting area, cabinets for dry food and a large fridge. If it weren’t for these rooms and all the donations to Ronald McDonald, life at the hospital would have been so much harder. And when we went home, we learned the difference in shopping needs. More and more cleaning supplies, fresh foods until blood count falls too low, then no fresh foods. It’s an entirely different experience, an entirely different focus on needs.

3. Snack Baskets. Every month, Candlelighters provides a $300 basket full of snacks for the kids and their families who must spend entire days in the clinic doing chemo, getting a blood transfusion or other medicine and tests. These baskets have bags of popcorn, cookies, crackers, chocolate, chips or juice. I just have to say, when you watch a healthy 9 year old drop from 74 lbs to 60 lbs in two short, sleepless months and you’re told get calories in her any way you can or face needing a stomach tube, well, seeing that child open a bag of chips takes on a whole new meaning. Unfortunately, last night the money had run out by the time they’d come to the snack baskets. They raised enough money to provide 2. We are very grateful for that, please don’t mistake my meaning. But I know next time we go shopping, we’ll buy an extra can or two of soup and a case of popcorn to help out.

4. The Family Resource Room. Full of free books, 2 computers with a printer and internet access, this is a quiet place to meet and to learn. While dealing with this, we discovered there’s never an end to the learning.

5. A Poke Box. Remember, we are dealing with children who must face a needle in their arm or chest on a regular basis. Yes, they have numbing cream, but would you believe one of our insurances actually considers this to be OPTIONAL? As in heavy copay, if they covered it at all. And lets not go into the necessity of anti-nausea meds which are barely counted in some cases. We always numbed the poke area, but the children are still so afraid of the needles that coping skills become an art form. And one of the coping skills is out and out bribery. :) So, get this poke and you can pick a prize from the poke box. After a year and a half, she had so many little toys and prizes, but I have to say she earned every single one of them. Of course, for surgery days and big days like MRIs, we also bribed with trips to the bookstore, Chinese food, and we couldn’t have survived without the unlimited Blockbuster rentals. Not to mention the Disney Channel. For about 2 years, Craig’s mom was the poke box fairy. She took all her bargain hunting skills and kept it full for the little kids and another one for the older teens. She’s still heavily involved.

This is getting quite long and I have church in the morning, so I’ll stop here. But here are 5 ways Candlelighters helps families. By far, these are not all the ways or even the most important. But next time someone you know has a child with cancer and you want to do something to help, here are a few ideas. Gas Cards. Grocery Cards. Snack Baskets. Learning Resources. Poke Box Prizes. Or even just drop your change in the receptacle outside the drive-thru window at McDonald’s. Or save your pop tabs and take them to the Ronald McDonald rooms at the hospital. Or buy a seat at the next dinner auction. :)

So, this morning, I told Craig I thought I had a hangover. He started laughing at me! I don’t understand why. I had 2 glasses of wine!

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