Nicholas Arquette will always remember his 11th birthday. He didn’t get a coveted present or have a huge party. Instead, he spent the day in the hospital while surgeons removed one of his mother’s breasts. After surgery, Arquette’s mother, Sally, underwent chemotherapy and radiation, but her breast cancer eventually spread to her bones. She died in 1984. Arquette was 16.
As a kid, Arquette, now 46, didn’t have anyone to talk with who had a parent with cancer. So two decades after his mother’s death, he started an organization to provide support to children going through similar experiences. Walk With Sally, based in Torrance, Calif., trains adults who’ve had cancer or who’ve been close to someone with the disease to become mentors to Los Angeles–area children between 7 and 17 who have a sibling or parent with cancer.
“I think I started the organization in the beginning to change from being this boy who lost his mom to cancer to being a man who has his own family and who could help change people’s lives,” says Arquette, of Manhattan Beach, Calif.
Volunteer to Help a Child
These organizations help children whose parents have cancer.
If you have firsthand experience dealing with cancer in your family and live in the Los Angeles area, apply to become a mentor for a child with Walk With Sally.
Be a Big Buddy to a youngster at Comfort Zone Camp, which offers free camps for kids who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or caregiver. Camps are offered in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia.
Mentors go through a full day of training, as well as a background check. After the organization finds a match (called a friendship), the mentor agrees to spend at least six to eight hours per month with the child or young adult for a minimum of one year. They can take walks in the park, go to museums or attend quarterly Walk With Sally–sponsored events, such as ice skating parties or day trips to nearby Disneyland.
Support in Tough Times
Use these tips if you know a child whose family member has cancer.
- Be available to give rides to special events or activities.
- Encourage the child to stay involved in extracurricular activities.
- Don’t make the child become the “reporter” by asking questions about his or her sick family member.
- Check in often and ask how the child is doing.
Since Walk With Sally started in 2004, it has created more than 100 friendships throughout Los Angeles County. The organization has given Arquette an opportunity to do what he once couldn’t: talk about a cherished working-class, single mom in everyday conversation. “Now not a day goes by that someone in the community isn’t saying [my mother’s] name through our organization,” he says.
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