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Caring for kids: Lions Pediatric Cancer Program supports local families in cancer battles

Rylan, a four-year-old Upper Peninsula boy, is all smiles while holding one of his stuffed animals during at visit to the doctor. Rylan has high-risk neuroblastoma and requires trips to the University of Michigan hospital in downstate Ann Arbor. Rylan is one of the U.P. children who is being helped by the Lions Pediatric Cancer Program (Photo courtesy of Lions Pediatric Cancer Program)

MARQUETTE — When most people think of young children, they think of carefree and playful times. Childhood should not have to be about pokes, prods, visiting doctors’ offices and being away from family. Being a kid should be all about adventures, playing and learning.

However, when a child is diagnosed with cancer, the situation gets more challenging.

Due to this, the Lions Pediatric Cancer Program was developed as a way to help ease the burdens that may fall on families affected by childhood cancer. The program was created by the Single District 10 Lions, which is a group of 55 clubs located throughout the Upper Peninsula.

“The U.P. Lions support pediatric cancer as one of their initiatives, as well as diabetes, vision, leader dogs, and hearing to name a few," explained Christine Smith, chairman of the Single District 10 Lions Pediatric Cancer Program.

In order to get treatment, children with cancer who reside in the U.P. are almost always required to travel either downstate or out of state, which can be taxing for families.

For example, Rylan, a four-year-old boy who lives in the Upper Peninsula, is being treated for high-risk neuroblastoma. In order to receive treatment, Rylan and his mom must travel downstate to the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor.

His treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants and more. Unfortunately, this treatment often requires Rylan and his mom to be away from his father and siblings for months at a time as the hospitalizations can include lengthy stays.

However, Rylan's family is experiencing the impact of the Lions Pediatric Cancer Program firsthand and is very grateful for the assistance, Rylan's dad said.

One of the ways the Lions Club is able to step in and help families like Rylan's out is through grant funding. Recently, the Single District 10 Lions Pediatric Cancer Program has been awarded a $7,500 grant by the Graymont Community and Economic Development Fund.

Another recent fundraiser put on by three local Lions Clubs from Marquette, Engadine-Newberry and Gwinn was a returnable can drive. The clubs collected, counted, and sorted over 80,000 returnable cans, raising a total of $8,172.

Smith said the funds will be used to meet a variety of needs.

"First, donations help meet some of the many costs that insurance does not cover. Second, through a partnership with Bay Cliff Health Facility, Lions will cover expenses for families to participate in a fun family weekend at Camp Quality, May 7 - 9, 2021. Planning for the camp is flexible and will adjust to the changing demands presented by COVID 19," she said. "Lions funds will also help provide free wigs for children who have lost hair through chemotherapy. Through a partnership with Maggie's Wigs4Kids, Lions from across the Upper Peninsula will be reaching out in September, during Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month, to encourage donations of hair to make these wigs. And Lions have partnered with Kids Kicking Cancer, a global organization dedicated to lowering the pain of children by teaching them martial arts as a therapy. Children learn breath work, meditation, and traditional karate. Lions are helping to stock backpacks for participants with books for children ages 2-18, and $5 gift certificates from Target, Meijer and Walmart."

Currently, 10 families from across the Upper Peninsula who have children with cancer are being helped by the Lions program.

One of the challenges that the Lions are facing is getting the word out to eligible families, Smith said.

Due to this, she encourages any U.P. resident who has a child with cancer to reach out to the Lions Club and inquire about resources.

The best way to reach the program is by contacting Chris Smith at lionchris906pcc@outlook.com. To learn more, visit the Facebook group Upper Peninsula Lions Supporting Kids With Cancer.

Amy Grigas can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is agrigas@miningjournal.net.

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