“I get by with a little help from my friends.” The lyrics to this classic Beatles song perfectly describe the purpose and atmosphere of UNC’s Pediatric Hematology Oncology Family Retreat. According to Liz and Ola Ferm, whose six-year-old son Alex has battled T-cell lymphoma for the past 28 months, this biannual event has become a time of fun, relaxation, sharing and encouragement for their entire family.
“Alex was diagnosed after we took him for his school kindergarten physical,” Alex’s mom Liz explained. “Our pediatrician found a lump in his neck, and an ultrasound showed multiple tumors. After a series of MRIs and biopsies, Alex began an aggressive form of chemotherapy here at UNC. This all happened within a week of that initial pediatric visit. It was a terrifying time for us as a family.”
While Alex’s illness has taken the family on a long, stressful journey, one of the positive outcomes has been the friendships the Ferms have made with other families of pediatric cancer patients in the clinic. “And those relationships have flourished, especially during the family retreats,” said Liz. “We bond, we reenergize and lift each other up, and we come home ready to keep fighting cancer.”
This type of support for families is precisely why Northwestern Mutual, a leading national financial security company, is now generously supporting the event.
“This partnership is a perfect fit for our organization to give back and help our communities fight childhood cancers,” said Mike Condrey, managing partner of Northwestern Mutual in North Carolina.
“Northwestern Mutual has a legacy of helping families in the communities where we live and work. We understand that childhood cancer takes an enormous financial and emotional toll on children and their families, and we want to help alleviate these burdens.”
Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children ages 1 to 19 in the U.S. Northwestern Mutual committed to accelerating the search for cures to childhood cancers and to providing support to families bravely battling the disease. To date, Northwestern Mutual has provided more than $7 million to help ease the impact of childhood cancer on families and children, as well as to help advance research for lifesaving projects. Northwestern Mutual in North Carolina has contributed more than $85,000 in under three years.
The Northwestern Mutual Retreat for Families with Cancer will support two events per year in Chapel Hill. Events are held at the Chapel Hill Aqueduct Center, a peaceful, rural setting perfectly suited for families to come together and take their mind off the, at-times, daily deluge of infusions, scans and treatments. The retreat offers a chance for family members to come together with parents, siblings and caregivers and connect and support others who are also facing cancer.
“Families leave the weekend feeling renewed with lifted spirits,” said Dr. Stuart Gold, MD, division chief of hematology and oncology in the UNC Department of Pediatrics. “This event is tremendously helpful for families overall going through the treatment of a child with cancer.”
During past events, activities have included a scavenger hunt, workshops for parents and siblings, a “superhero” obstacle course and photo booth, and a festive dinner complete with an awards presentation.
“We are looking forward to the next event for the opportunity to see firsthand the benefit of our support as we volunteer and help these amazing families battling cancer together,” said Condrey. The next event will take place in fall 2015.