Circle of Champs offers help to families with a child who has a life-threatening illness. Beyond the sick child, Circle of Champs offers the entire family a break from the stress this illness puts on the whole family. While this program helps a number of families in the area, there is one family who wanted to share their story.
Jane and Jack were longtime members of the Glenville YMCA. They spent time at the Y with their two toddlers, Ryan and Rachel. The couple, living on a limited income and pregnant with their third child, were able to maintain their membership due to our financial assistance program. Because of this, their toddlers were able to thrive in a number of activities, specifically swimming.
The following summer, an abdominal mass was found in 19-month-old, Sarah. The doctors diagnosed her with Stage IV Neuroblastoma with a grim 30% five-year survival rate, with a 50% relapse rate if she survived.
“Our world was shattered,” said Jane. “It would never be the same.”
The family had to leave the Y, as Sarah attended months of harsh treatments, surgeries, and infections, with round-the-clock trips to the hospital. It became the family’s new normal.
“I was at an event and I overheard one of the dads talking about Circle of Champs at the YMCA,” Jane said. “My ears were suddenly tuned into his conversation when I heard him say YMCA. Our kids were still asking why we didn’t go anymore.”
After that, Jane knew what her family needed. They needed to be back at the YMCA.
Through our Circle of Champs program, families are given a discounted membership to the YMCA, are connected with other families, and are invited to attend monthly events to help regain a sense of normalcy.
“The program helped make it affordable for us, as I was working full-time taking care of Sarah,” said Jane. “We were able to enjoy the Y once again as a family.”
Because of the Champs, Jane was able to enroll her children in swim lessons and revive their sense of normalcy. Because of the Y, their “normal” was no longer a bout of hospital visits, it was swimming at the Y.
Once they were back, Jane signed Ryan and Rachel up for swim lessons, but decided to hold off on enrolling Sarah—thinking she wasn’t quite ready to dive in after all she had been through.
“While I was getting the kids into the pool with the instructor, Sarah got into the pool on the other side. When I turned around, she was participating with kids her age in another class,” Jane beamed. “I signed her up that day. By the end of the session, she was able to swim on her own.”
The following summer, things were going well. Sarah was cancer-free and she was down to very few treatments, so each of the kids were granted scholarships to attend Circle of Champs Summer Camp. Because of their time at camp, Jane was able to return to school and finish her nursing program.
Everything was going well until August, when Jane was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation—which causes the cerebellum to descend down into the spinal canal.
“I didn’t want to lose our membership as the only exercise I was allowed to do was swim,” said Jane. “I put in a call to the Guilderland office and they were able to help us out. I never imagined we would be granted such generosity.”
Throughout the winter, the kids enjoyed basketball programs and continued to swim, while Sarah celebrated her 6th birthday and 3rd cancer-free anniversary. Jane’s symptoms improved and she found a part-time job, which shortly turned into a full-time position.
“I could start to see a light at the end of the tunnel again,” said Jane.
That May, Sarah relapsed. During a routine scan, the doctors found another tumor in her abdomen. That’s when Jane reached back out to Circle of Champs.
With a heavy heart, she informed the group of her daughters relapse, and asked for help. Sarah would be spending her summer in the hospital and she would need help caring for her other two kids.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do with Rachel and Ryan,” Jane said, tearing up. “That’s when I was told that they could come to camp all summer long on a full scholarship.”
Circle of Champs was able to relieve some of the stress caused by having a sick child. The family was able to maintain a sense of normalcy, despite their circumstances.
“I cannot even begin to tell you how much this meant to me and my husband,” Jane said. “Because of them, that summer will not be the summer their sister got cancer again. It will be the summer that Rachel got her first leading role playing Maria in the Sound of Music. It will be the summer that Ryan had a blast on the Adventure Camp trips. This would have never been possible without the Annual Campaign.”
From there, the family thrived—continuing to attend swim lessons, make friends at summer camp, and keep morale high through the lowest times.
“The Annual Campaign is incredible. There isn’t a word worthy enough for its praise and how it helps families.”
Thanks to Circle of Champs, the family was able to make memories outside of the hospital.
“My family thanks you from the bottom of our hearts.”