THE devastating news that a child has been diagnosed with cancer brings with it a tsunami of pain and uncertainty.
Gold Geese is a Leigh-based charity that provides care and support to help families through the most challenging of times.
For Katie Southgate, the motivation is to work with the trustees to lead the charity so she can help families the way she and her family were helped in 2014 after her daughter was diagnosed with the rare blood cancer, Philadelphia-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Katie with her daughter during her cancer treatment
She lived in the elephant ward on Great Ormond Street for the first year of treatment and then remained on an outpatient basis for the second year. “My daughter is now in 4th grade and she has a lot of friends, is involved in everything and is so happy,” says Katie.
“Often charities start as a result of a loss, but we have a happy story to tell. I felt like I had to give something back after so many helped us.”
Katie was blown away by the outpouring of love when her daughter was diagnosed.
“I remember being overwhelmed by the support from people the moment she was diagnosed,” Katie says. “I felt I couldn’t help it, after all that love and support. I wanted to do the same for other families going through the same thing.”
The charity started out as Hattie Heroes and then evolved into Gold Geese (“gold” because it’s the color for childhood cancer and “geese” because they’re strong animals that travel vast distances together, supporting each other).
Katie says that after a child is diagnosed with cancer, there is a huge amount on board, as well as many logistical challenges.
“There is so much to do when your child is diagnosed,” she says.
“Children are very sick, get chemo very quickly, so there is a lot to clear up. Parents may need to be trained in administering medications. I was trained in taking blood because my daughter wouldn’t let nurses near her at the time.”
Many parents may have to stop working while their child is in the hospital.
“Children always need a parent with them in the hospital, often they have to quit their job to take care of them. Some blood cancers in boys can last for three and a half years, so it’s a long-term thing. That can have major financial consequences for the family.”
Gold Geese supports children under 18 and their families who are patients at Southend and Basildon hospitals. They organize vacations for families to enjoy together.
Katie says: “We love to spoil the kids, organize for them to go to the theater in the best seats, stay in the best hotels and provide new outfits. “We aim to time the journey with treatment so that the child feels good while they are gone and then get their treatment when they come back.”
Katie says parents can identify with her because she went through the experience.
“The fact that we’ve been through it breaks the barrier with families. I remember seeing a little girl, with beautiful curly hair, return to the ward where we were sitting with her mother. I thought to myself that one day we would come back to the ward. It makes me emotional to talk about it. I think it’s important for parents to hear positive results.”
When it comes to the most difficult moment of a parent’s life, Katie is there to support them when they need it.
She said: “It can be a very intimate moment to talk about end-of-life care, funeral arrangements and assistance with funeral expenses. This is such a difficult time for parents. We strive to give families the most help during these times. and provide support.”
Gold Geese runs a cave at Old Hatch in Leigh, www.goldgeese.org/donate/grotto, on Facebook @HattiesHeroes and Instagram @GoldGeese