Flash was the name of Lockaby’s imaginary girlfriend when he was younger. The name came up when baby naming for the Tollison’s second child began — and it stuck. Little Katie Flash has gone by Flash ever since she was born. But Flash’s name isn’t the only rare thing about her.
One year ago, Flash was diagnosed with stage 3 neuroblastoma, a very rare cancer that forms in nerve tissue.
Flash is just one of more than 600 children in the Carolinas diagnosed with cancer each year, according to data from Children’s Cancer Partners of the Carolinas (CCP).
“You’re in shock when you hear your cancer diagnosis,” explains Flash’s mother, Kate Tollison. The past year has been a journey of visits to Greenville Hospital System, the Medical University of South Carolina, and Jacksonville, Florida, for Flash’s treatments.
In South Carolina, treatment for pediatric cancer is available only in Greenville, Charleston, and Columbia. Families of children seeking more-specialized care must travel out of state, adding to the families’ financial and emotional hardships.
The Tollisons are among 325 families affected by childhood cancer that CCP currently assists.
“All the money, everything they do, goes straight to the family,” Kate Tollison says. “Every cent that goes to [CCP] goes straight to making the lives of the children better.”
Currently working with 11 hospitals, CCP receives the names of families in need of assistance from hospital social workers. Within 24 hours of receiving that family’s information, CCP contacts the whole family to determine their needs and barriers.
“At CCP, our primary focus is getting Carolina children to the lifesaving treatments they need by providing families with funds for transportation, meals, and lodging associated with this vital care,” says Laura Allen, CCP executive director.
Headquartered in Spartanburg, CCP began in 2001 as a project of the Spartanburg Breakfast Optimist Club. Five years later, CCP became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the purpose of assisting families in Spartanburg County. After expanding in 2015, CCP extended its services from one county to 147 counties in the Carolinas.
“CCP is able to come alongside these hurting families and offer the critical support they need and opportunities for them to connect with others who are fighting cancer,” Allen says. “This helps them to overcome their sense of isolation and that feeling of being completely overwhelmed.”
Financial support takes on many forms — paying for airfare, Uber rides, hotels, meals, utility bills. But outside of travel, food, and lodging, CCP aids families in managing all the stressful details and tasks associated with pediatric cancer care.
Most parents of children with cancer are not prepared for the disease’s financial challenges. So, CCP provides financial literacy training for them to better cope.
For the children, many hospital visits include chemotherapy, ports, and other unpleasantries. To alleviate some of the pain and lift their spirits, CCP hosts fun events and activities that bring families together.
Camp Victory, an annual three-day summer event, allows the children to take a break and enjoy time with one another.
“The impact is tremendous,” Allen says of CCP’s programs. The partnership of CCP with hospital social workers gives families the necessary means to provide their children with the best available care.
“We need the people of the Carolinas to help the children of the Carolinas,” Allen says.
Eight-year-old Peyton Gesing was also diagnosed with neuroblastoma. Diagnosed at age 5, Peyton and his family were among the first in the Upstate to receive assistance from CCP.
“We would’ve been lost if we didn’t have them,” says mother Suzanne Gesing.
Peyton received treatment at Greenville Hospital System and also traveled to New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for a trial. Traveling to and from New York for the past two years, the Gesings were supported financially and emotionally by CCP.
To help children like Flash and Peyton and support CCP’s efforts, visit www.childrenscancerpartners.org to donate money or contact CCP to supply items needed by the families.