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Awareness Starts With You

BY Jeremy Shatan
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The funds raised by Hope & Heroes are in greatest part directed to Columbia University for clinical programs and research. However, we do have  donor-directed funds that we use to help patient families with immediate financial needs resulting from illness. Working with hospital social workers and other staff to help pay for expenses that range from cell phone bills to mortgage payments and from tuition to textbooks is an incredibly fulfilling part of the work we do here. The financial impact of a cancer diagnosis is a well-documented disaster for many families and Hope & Heroes is there for Columbia families in their hour of need.

Just today I paid a hotel bill for a family. Their one-year-old son is immuno-compromised and they were unable to remain in their Bronx apartment due to a roach infestation. They hoped that the move to the hotel would be brief as they were working on a Section 8 application for a new apartment. As the weeks went by and the charges mounted they worried about the expense and what they would do if they couldn’t afford the hotel any longer. Our social work team was well aware of the issue and applied to us to pay a portion of the hotel bill.

As I wrote the check, I noticed something on the invoice from the hotel, one that offers long-term stays in suites. Most people use such a hotel for work, traveling somewhere to consult for weeks or months and then moving back home. There is a line on the bill, under the guest’s address, that says “Company.” In the case of this family, there was no company affiliation so they entered the only other choice in their billing system: Leisure.

The bitter irony of that word stopped me in my tracks as I entered the information into our accounting system.  It made me realize, yet again, that society doesn’t always have a box to check for families of children with cancer or blood disorders. I would add that bereaved families have even less of a place. With September being both Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and Sickle Cell Awareness Month we ask you to keep an eye out for families who might be struggling with these issues. An extra hand – or even a kind smile – may have a bigger impact than you think. That’s the beginning of awareness and it starts with you.

There are other things you can do. Share this post. Share your own story. Offer help to a family in your community. Show up when Times Square goes gold on September 17th. Or make a donation to help our patients and families – it will make a very real difference.

The story for the family above will soon have a new chapter. Their Section 8 application was approved and they are actively looking for a place they can call home while taking care of their sick child.

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