A parent’s worst nightmare is when their child is diagnosed with cancer. The devastating news is just one challenge. Continuous treatments, constant doctor’s visits, not to mention the financial burden on parents, can make it hard to cope.
Luckily, there is an organization in Spokane that brings light to these families’ darkest days. This organization was originally formed in the 1970s under the name The Candlelighters by parents of childhood cancer survivors all over Washington.
“These parents knew what it was like to learn their child would fight for their life and wanted to be there to support them and provide a light of hope in the darkest times,” said Leslie Woodfill, Executive Director of ACCOIN. Woodfill, a Spokane native, has worked in the nonprofit world for over 25 years serving under organizations such as Make-A-Wish and The Alzheimer’s Association.
The American Childhood Cancer Organization of the Inland Northwest serves all children diagnosed with cancer from Eastern Washington and those traveling to Spokane from Northern Idaho and Western Montana for treatment.
According to the organization’s website, the mission statement of ACCOIN is to educate, support, serve, and advocate for families of children with cancer, survivors, and the professionals who care for them. The organization does this by providing emotional and practical support, education, patient advocacy, financial support, and the assurance that no child will have to fight cancer alone.
The ACCOIN is the first group the family meets after the doctor announces the child’s initial cancer diagnosis. The group brings a comfort bag filled with things a child and their parents need in the first days in the hospital. “We provide snacks, drinks, cafeteria cards, coffee cards, and toys to bring joy,” she said. Woodfill said her group also adopts families for the holidays, providing families with toys and grocery cards. “This is a way of constantly connecting so they know they are not alone in this journey,” she said.
Currently, ACCOIN is starting to bring back in-person events and family gatherings where families can have fun and socialize. Future plans will include a summer barbeque, an ice cream social, and some special family camps. According to Woodfill, the organization also plans a weekend retreat for parents who have lost their children to cancer.
Light The Way, the organization’s primary fundraising gala, will be held on September 30 at the Spokane Convention Center from 6:00 p.m. until midnight. “The event is magic! The atmosphere that builds in the room as people learn about our mission and how they can support local kids,” said Woodfill. She also said that all funds raised stay local and will be used to bring joy, peace, and strength to local families as they navigate these challenges.
“We will continue to be that daily front line of support for these special kids and their families, and we will also provide financial support, support groups, and give hugs,” said Woodfill. Woodfill said that the members of ACCOIN are humbled and honored to light this dark path our kids and their guardians walk each day as they face the realities of childhood cancer.
ACCOIN has touched many lives and continues to have an impact every day in the lives of Inland Northwest families. Currently, ACCOIN is serving nearly 120 kids who are in active treatment with some form of cancer. From the initial meeting in the hospital to ringing the bell to signify the end of treatment, ACCOIN is there for every part of the journey. So many parents feel very thankful for the services ACCOIN provides during their long and difficult journey with childhood cancer. Several parents recall how the organization made them feel like they were not fighting the battle alone during this difficult time.
Denise Moss, the program manager who directly works with the parents, has seen the impact of ACCOIN firsthand. “My daughter was diagnosed in the 1990s and received her treatment at Deaconess hospital, and other children’s moms were bringing snacks to the hospital once a week. We would hold on to the mothers like they were our lifeline because they knew the road ahead “. She feels that having the mothers there was the most powerful presence and the best gift you can have in this journey.
Moss said that ACCOIN got her through the rough times during her child’s cancer journey. For example, she felt that these parents truly understood what she was going through. “They truly understand what it’s like to watch your child experience horrible pain and suffering,” Moss said. She said that this journey was the most difficult one that she had ever experienced in her life.
“When I meet families and see the deer in the headlights in their eyes, it brings me back to the debilitating fear that I had when my Becky was diagnosed. I love when a parent visibly relaxes when we show up and tell them we are going to walk with them down this windy scary road. They are not alone,” Moss said.
After her daughter passed away, Moss struggled so much, and being involved in ACCOIN’s many bereavement groups was a big help. “We have five different support groups every month for families.” They will tentatively begin in-person support groups this spring. As an example, we began the in-person post-treatment support group at the Heirloom Cafe in February, making 6 support groups.
The public can help support ACCOIN in multiple ways by volunteering, making a financial donation, providing gift cards for families, or donating snacks and toys for kids in the hospital. These are just some of the many ways the public can assist the organization in its efforts. Woodfill encourages anyone interested in helping the organization to reach out to her with a phone call.
For more information, visit the ACCOIN website at www.acco.org/inlandnw or call Leslie at 509-995-5431.