IN 2015, JENNY YASSAIAN’S​ CHILDREN, Mikey and Emily, begged for her permission to set up a hot chocolate stand outside their elementary school in San Marino, California. Yessaian and her husband, George, suggested they donate the proceeds to a cause. Mikey and Emily, now 12 and 11, respectively, decided they wanted to give care packages to kids whose parents had cancer, and Help with Hope was born. 

The Path Ahead

The National Cancer Institute has produced a publication called When Your Parent Has Cancer that aims to guide young people through all aspects of a parent’s cancer diagnosis.

A parent’s cancer diagnosis can begin a scary period in a child’s life, says Yessaian, a senior product manager at Novartis Oncology. Kids may have a difficult time adjusting to changes in routine or may struggle to understand why Mom or Dad looks or acts differently or needs to spend time in a hospital. Through her work at Novartis and the time she spent as a nurse in a pediatric oncology unit, Yessaian noticed that there weren’t a lot of resources to help kids cope with the stress of having a sick parent. “We discussed this huge, unmet need, and as a family we decided to do something about it,” she says.

The Yessaians’ initial goal was to raise enough money for 100 care packages in their first year. They prepared and distributed these packages themselves, giving them to kids whose parents were being treated at the nearby USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles and other cancer centers in the area. Each care package contains a stuffed animal, an age-appropriate book walking the child through having a parent who has cancer, and either a coloring packet (for young kids) or a journal (for older kids).

Corporate sponsorships and community partnerships allow the Yessaians’ organization to keep on giving. “It costs over $500 to ship 35 care packages,” says Yessaian.

Support for Kids and Teens

These organizations also offer support to kids and teens whose parents have cancer.

  • Kids Konnected runs support groups and camps for kids dealing with a parent’s cancer diagnosis.
  • Lacuna Loft provides online support programs for teens and young adults caring for a relative with cancer.

Help w​​ith Hope has distributed more than 1,000 care packages to kids around the world. But Mikey and Emily have an even loftier goal: to help every single kid whose parent has cancer. Yessaian says that Help with Hope has been a great learning experience for the entire family, reinforcing for her kids “the importance of being the change you wish to see in the world.” 

Do you know an extraordinary person who’s​ giving his or her time to the cancer cause?​
Email Volunteer@CancerTodayMag.org. We may feature the person in a future issue​.