Throw in a toy for a pediatric cancer patient this year while shopping for the holidays. I promise it will be much appreciated.
Joshy recently turned 2. He couldn’t be cuter. Looking at him, it is not at all clear that after 5 months he was diagnosed with Wilms tumor, also known as nephroblastoma – kidney cancer. Although childhood cancers are rare (the numbers are increasing), Wilms tumor is the most common kidney cancer in children. Each year in the United States, approximately 500 children are diagnosed with Wilms, usually between the ages of 2 and 5, although it can be found in infants, such as Joshy, and also in 8-year-olds, such as my daughter, Lyyli, who was born in February. diagnosed with Williams.
Joshy began treatment at the height of COVID at a Queens hospital but transferred to the nation’s largest hospital for pediatric cancer patients, MSK Kids at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan after a “terrible experience” that resulted in a relapse, says his father, Jos Ford.
People often travel not only from New York, but all over the world to work with MSK doctors who are considered experts in their fields. MSK Kids sees about 20 children and young adults with kidney tumors each year, which is about 4 percent of all cases in the US. Most of these are Wilms tumors.
At MSK Kids, Dr. Michael Ortiz developed a different protocol involving 25 weeks of chemotherapy, surgery and six rounds of radiation. “It was such a blessing. He’s the doctor, but a family member. The team is just amazing and blessings to everyone they get the chance to care for,” said Ford.
dr. Ortiz is also my daughter’s oncologist. Ford speaks the truth; I wouldn’t love Dr. Ortiz if he were my own family. Although Lyyli and Joshy probably crossed paths throughout the year on their treatment days, our families have never officially met. When I heard about a toy ride he runs for MSK Kids with a drop-off here in the Hudson Valley, I reached out.
“Last year, when we thought we were completely free, I started to feel a survivor’s guilt. We wanted to do something for the kids. We always wanted to give something back. When it relapsed, I thought, okay, let’s do something,” Ford said.
It was not yet clear what. When they recovered from Joshy’s surgery, they shared a hospital room in MSK with a California family who had dropped everything to come to Sloan.
After sharing a room for a few days, Ford wanted to give his young roommate one of Joshy’s toys. “The mother said, ‘I can’t because he’s neutropenic,'” he recalls. This means that the child had low levels of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell that helps fight infection. Many types of chemo eliminate white blood cells, and as they regenerate, anything potentially germicidal, such as shared toys, poses a risk of infection.
When Joshy was fired, Ford went to Target and bought their new friend a monster truck and a few other things. “From there it was like, ‘This is something I know I want to do,'” he recalls.
The result is Joshy’s Holiday Toy Drive, which Ford and his wife Vanessa hope will bring smiles to children’s faces.
“Some children cannot go home for Christmas. At Memorial they always provide toys for children, not even at Christmas. We know it will be a great contribution to them and the kids deserve all they can have,” he says.
The toys they collect (please no stuffed animals) through drop-offs in Middletown (where Joshy’s godmother lives – donations are accepted at Artistic Creations, 463 NY-211 East, Middletown) and in Queens Village, as well as through this Amazon gift list will be added later. delivered this month to the child life specialists of MSK Kids. The collection ends on Saturday, December 12, although MSK Kids also has its own Amazon wish list, which can be used any time of the year.
“MSK appreciates the generosity of our donors, especially during the holiday season. Toys, games and activities are used all year round to bring joy to our pediatric patients during long hospital stays, birthdays, achievements and celebrations,” said a spokesperson for the Kids team.
Toys take pediatric patients through the unimaginable. Ford remembers an X-ray where Joshy wouldn’t sit still.
“An X-ray technician came out and brought him a little stuffed dog and it immediately calmed him down,” Ford says. Relaxing and playing with the dog, they got through the X-ray. “These things that seem little have such an impact,” he says.
They also help when kids are given “access” — when nurses insert needles through their pre-anesthetic chests to their chemotherapy ports for blood work or treatment.
“I remember he was approached one time – he wasn’t there. That day he woke up in a bad mood. They put out a little basketball thing and he said, ‘Daddy! Ball!’ And then he played with it and got access, one, two, three.” (Short shout out to pediatric oncology nurses! The best!)
The toys Lyyli has been given from far and wide have been a lifeline for our family this year. They distract her, yes, but it’s more than that. They somehow recognize that childhood cancer is unfair, horrible and unacceptable.
I will always remember being met by our team when we arrived at MSK Kids. Her childhood life specialist, Jessica Anenberg, who is pure unbridled magic, handed us boxes of things amid the ingestion chaos: pottery to decorate, a gold Harry Potter tell-tale, a sand art pack, and some Lego. Toys, which used to be birthdays and holidays, looked shiny and new and merry while Lyyli trembled in pain and we all trembled with fear and terror. The dissonance somehow helped. I can not explain.
Over the many months of treatment that followed — chemo, surgery, radiation, PT, OT, scans, therapy — spanning St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Passover, Mardi Gras, Fourth of July, Labor Day, and the first month or so of In third grade, Jess showed up with toys just when none of us could stand another minute of misery and pain. Then the mood would change and everything felt more possible.
Bigger gifts came after surgery and when stuck in recovery. Inpatient (outpatient) treatment days include bingo prizes and extensive art projects. Nothing can feel normal in the childhood cancer realm, but toys come close.
“Toys have a lot of meaning. It’s a symbol of being able to be a kid and play something that their age group can recognize as opposed to ‘What are these needles? Who are these people? What are these drugs?’” says Ford.
Donate toys for children receiving cancer treatment to MSK Kids at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in three ways:
– Hudson Valley drop-off location is up Artistic creations, 463 RT-211 East, Middletown, NY 10940-2201
– Donate virtually by purchasing this special Amazon toy ride gift box
– Consider giving any time of the year through the MSK Kids Amazon Wishlist
If you can’t get something in time for Joshy’s Holiday Toy Drive (collection ends December 12), that’s okay. Even after the holidays, Ford likes to bring presents to MSK. “The kids, they need things all day long, all day long.”