Cancer Survivor Founds Nonprofit to Help Sick Kids Battle Loneliness
Sarah, now age ten and in remission (go Sarah!), was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma in fall 2017. Scared and confused about what was happening, she realized she wanted to help other kids like herself stay connected and share their experiences with one another during what can be a lonely, isolating time in the hospital. Her G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ spirit was clearly kicking into high gear, no matter how tough the circumstances!
A Girl Scout since kindergarten, Sarah loves doing things with her troop. So it was important to her to keep those bonds strong while she was sick and undergoing treatment.
"For Sarah, to feel part of her troop even though she wasn’t there was such a big thing.”
Maribel, Sarah’s mom, explains, “Staying connected to Girl Scouts was so important to her, to feel a sense of normalcy, just being a kid. To feel accepted by her peers.
She had lots of support from her troop. The girls one by one sent messages, cards, and letters. They would FaceTime. They would call and drop off meals and drawings.
For Sarah, to feel part of her troop even though she wasn’t there was such a big thing.” As Sarah says, keeping those troop connections strong “made my day.”
She even found the strength and determination to stay active in the Girl Scout Cookie Program right after her diagnosis, meeting her goal of selling 100 boxes of cookies, all while undergoing aggressive chemotherapy treatments at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.
She also made it to a few troop meetings and texted her Girl Scout friends often to stay motivated and connected. Talk about commitment!
An Innovative Solution to Hospital Loneliness
Knowing the importance of staying in touch led Sarah to found Chat with Champs, a nonprofit that gives pediatric cancer patients confined to the hospital (ranging from a few days to a few weeks) access to walkie-talkies so they can communicate with one another, ask questions, share fears, or just chat.
Some patients have to be isolated to protect themselves from germs or, if they’re in the hospital for a longer period, find themselves alone when parents and family members have to return to work. Also, because chemotherapy treatments are during the day and make patients very tired, they tend to sleep after, which leads children to end up awake and alone at random hours during the night. Like Sarah, these kids can feel “trapped,” and the walkie-talkies give them a sense of simple but powerful, immediate connection. Nurses are busy and come and go, and hospital volunteers are only allowed to stay a few minutes at a time. But the walkie-talkie is always there. The kids are never completely alone with help from Chat with Champs.
Sarah takes pride in bringing people together: “I got to meet other kids instead of just sitting in my bed watching TV,” she beamed.
In addition to founding her nonprofit, Sarah also created care packages with all the essentials she used and needed while in treatment. Although she was only nine years old when diagnosed and had to face the overwhelming challenges of dealing with cancer, her Girl Scout instinct kicked in, helping her navigate the experience and seeking to make it more manageable both for herself and for others like her.
Of course, the experience made her grow in several ways, too. “She’s definitely matured, she’s more confident, more assertive,” Maribel says. “She appreciates the small things in life, and she’s very grateful to do things she couldn’t do last year, when she was just starting chemo. She has a different outlook, as I think everyone who goes through cancer does.
Little things that would normally bother her, after you go through this, all of those things don’t mean anything anymore.”
“I think being a Girl Scout has always instilled a sense of teamwork in Sarah,” Maribel reflects. “She knows how important it is to try to help others and be a part of something and participate, even when you’re down.”
A Bright Future
Since Sarah implemented Chat with Champs at Rady Children’s Hospital, it’s maintained four walkie-talkies for kids—and it just got approval to put one in every single room! The hospital is running a fundraising campaign, waiting on much-needed donations to make that happen, with the hope to raise $3,000 for Chat with Champs.
And it doesn’t stop at Rady; Sarah’s goal is to bring the program to other pediatric oncology hospitals across California and then expand even further.
Although she faced difficult, scary circumstances, Sarah found the confidence to rely on and create community—through her Girl Scout troop and Chat with Champs. She was courageous and actively made things better for herself and others.
As Maribel says, “Girl Scouts is wonderful because it really does teach kids early on that you have a voice and you’re important and you matter.”
“Girl Scouts is wonderful because it really does teach kids early on that you have a voice and you’re important and you matter.”
What would Sarah say to other young girls who want to make a difference in the world? “Never give up, and always have faith.”
Learn more about Chat with Champs and how you can support the cause. And follow the org on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @chatwithchamps!