The Holiday Hospital: How to Love Christmas even in a Cancer Ward

By: Mitch Friesen, CFC recipient 2011 & Director of Growth and Community

Music in malls, restaurants, and on the radio all over the country tout this season as “the most wonderful time of the year.” For many people, that is exactly what it is, coming together with family and friends for all sorts of blissful shenanigans. Christmas is supposed to be a time of relaxation, rejuvenation, and reconnection. However, for some people every year – like me and my family back in 2001 – the holidays feel more like the embodiment of a Batman villain: smiling out of one side of your face and grimacing out the other. You are stuck in this surreal place wondering how so many emotions could be packed into one person, which one you should portray, and how all this even happened.

You see, we are told that cancer changes everything, that it takes so much, but we do not expect it to take away the joy of the holidays.  To us, those are sacred times for memories to be made and traditions to endure. All of the preparation that goes into creating that memorable space came forcibly to a halt when I was diagnosed with an advanced stage III form of B-cell lymphoma on December 14, 2001 (my sister’s birthday, no less). The next week was a blur of medical information and shock that I just won a lottery of an illness. As our new reality came into focus we realized that Christmas was just around the corner, and this year would be spent in a pediatric oncology ward.

How do you deal with a situation like this: recognizing that there is a pall cast over a normally-carefree and happy time, and that it is unavoidable and for the health of a child? It can be a scary and overwhelming dilemma, especially if you keep those feelings bottled up inside you where no one else can help. The truth is, though, that as a family you go through these trials together, and everyone is feeling the exact same way. Even so, each member of a family (and the many friends who would be by your side in an instant) has something unique to offer as part of the solution – however temporary – to hospital holiday. The point is to do so together.

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For me and my family, this meant decorating the room with our own tiny Christmas tree, lights, and wintry window art. Everyone also unwrapped presents in that little hospital room, cramping the space with bodies and wrapping paper, but worth it because there was no way that anyone could mistake the life overflowing from all of us. I probably felt nauseous at some point, and a nurse periodically dropped by to change my IV, reminding us of our location. When faced with having Christmas in a cancer ward, make it as good as possible, but even more important is for your holiday to be memorable. Time with our loved ones is too precious a gift to waste waiting for a perfect moment that will never come. May you be able to seize a wonderful Christmas for others and yourself, wherever you may be.

At this time of year, we especially want to remember how cancer has altered the holiday plans, not to mention lives, of so many families, including many future members of the Cancer for College family. This Christmas, please join us in giving the lasting gift of a college education to deserving cancer survivors (donate HERE). Have a Merry Christmas!

Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.

~Peg Bracken


Easy Ways to Help the Charity You Love

When it comes to giving back, you are flush with options. There are so many worthy causes nowadays with so many needs, how do you choose which ones to help? After you know who to help you also have the task of figuring out what you will do to make a difference. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but it is a great starting point to launch you into some meaningful service.

  1. Be Brave

The most difficult step to take is the first one. By that, I mean actually letting the right person know that you are ready and willing. If you already know that you love a certain charity and want them to succeed, then it should be easy for you to get in touch with someone who works there and just ask what they need. This will certainly get their attention and you will quickly be given tasks or options regarding how you can help out. There is always something to do because there are always people in need. Even if you have to learn something new or go a little outside of your comfort zone, simply emailing or calling is definitely the most straightforward way to help.

  1. Spread the Word, Specifically to Your Friends

Your social circle is more influential than you might think. Just being yourself and caring for the charity that you love, but doing so in front of your friends and family, can show them just how much they, too, care about the same cause. Like a cold in kindergarten, helping others is infectious. The great part is that each of your friends knows people who would love to get on board as well, if they only hear about it. Try something like this: each month, have a party where the theme is the host’s favorite charity. Make it awesome with food, drinks, fun activities, and maybe even a guest from the charity itself. Talk, and listen too, as your friends and family have great causes on their mind too. Chances are, each time you do this you will get to know everyone better. Who knows, you may even find a new favorite charity.

  1. Show Up

Liking photos and sharing infographics with important facts lets the internet know what you care about, but the most difference is made when people are reminded that you are a living, breathing human being. There is a fundraising event happening near you? Commit yourself to attend, either as a volunteer or participant. In the age of social media, we can feel involved and helpful without lifting more than a finger. Don’t get me wrong, there are incredible ways to assist from the couch sometimes, but real people in real need will at some point require the presence of other people to make a real difference. After all, in the end people help people, and organizations are conduits to make that happen. Your unique expertise, all the way down to your common hands, feet, and willing smile are needed to make your favorite charity a lasting success.

We are brimming with excitement to be able to help so many people accomplish their dreams, and we are only here because so many great people decided to put into action some or all of the suggestions I just mentioned. There are so many ways to get involved. What are your ideas? Tell us in the comments below. We would love to hear about it!

Becoming the Dollar Scholar: Tips for Submitting the Best Scholarship Application

“Tis the season of giving, and what better to give than scholarships to cancer survivors. You heard right, the application for the 2016-2017 Cancer for College scholarship is live (click here to get started) until January 31! We cannot think of a worthier group than young cancer survivors, or a better cause than their education. Our applicants live very busy lives: going from sports and music, to final projects, treatment, family engagements, and just plain being awesome (it can be quite tiring). That being said, in order to give every applicant the best possible chance of receiving a scholarship next year, we have compiled a list of helpful tips and hints on your way to conquering this application (and every other application you may be completing). Here we go!

Tip #1: Recommendation Letters

Even though this is a simple step, it is important to start the process as soon as possible so that whomever you ask has ample time to gush about all of your accomplishments and good qualities. When pondering who you would like to ask, keep these things in mind:

  1. Choose someone based on familiarity instead of status. While it is tempting to ask a superstar teacher or acquaintance based on who they are to others, only ask them based on who they are to you. If they know you well enough to speak to your accomplishments, then you have found a stellar recommendation.
  2. Make your invitation personal. If this recommendation is important to you, let whomever you ask know that in more than a text; “CN U HLP, PLZ?” is just not classy. A better option is to ask him or her in person or over the phone before you send the request. and show your appreciation with a thank you note or other simple gift.
  3. Show your appreciation. Once you have received confirmation that the recommendation letter has been submitted, let the writer know you are grateful for the time and effort they put in with a thank you note. And if you receive the scholarship, perhaps another thank you is well-deserved, in the form of coffee or a little gift card.

Tip #2: Personal Statement

One of the most daunting parts of any application is the personal statement. How do you know what to write, or even how to present yourself? The important thing to remember is that we want to know you, not the person you think fits into some fantasy “scholarship recipient mold.” Personal statements give you the chance to expound upon what we did not ask for elsewhere. Paint a complete picture of yourself here, starting with these thoughts to get your mind whirring:

  1. What makes you unique?
  2. Are you already an expert at something that most people have never even attempted?
  3. Positivity versus reality. Do not discount inputting challenges or tragedy if those situations have been the most impactful parts of your life. Positivity does not a scholarship get, nor a person make.
  4. Being yourself is the most memorable.
  5. Finally, get someone to proofread the statement for errors, and to make sure you hit the high notes of you.

Tip #3: Pace Yourself

You thought you were only getting tips for an application, but this one applies to life, too. When you get stuck, take a break and go do something to purposefully take your mind off of the scholarship. This will benefit you, and the people around you would so much rather spend time with a human than a cranky stress monster. The application window is open until the end of January, so take it in sections. Oftentimes, our brains keep working through problems subconsciously, editing and improving until what you have is what you knew you always wanted to say and your mind sighs, “ahhhh.” So, take off the thinking cap, save your work often (seriously), and go do something that you enjoy for a while.

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However you choose to go about completing the application for the 2016-2017 Cancer for College scholarship, be certain that it has your own stamp of approval. We look forward to getting to know you through your application and, hopefully, beyond that as well. Good luck! We are rooting for you.