The rhythmic beat of the IV drips almost audible, as they fall and wind through endless tubes into a tiny hand. The soft breathing of a child, the sound of their heartbeat a mother curls up close to them to hear, for comfort. The toys by the bedside, the white walls, the smell of sickness permeating the room.
Over the past year, I have been visiting the leukemia children’s ward in Xinhua Hospital, Shanghai, China. Every two weeks, my club members and I would lug a large box filled with assorted toys – balloon animals, figurines, play dough, scratch-it paper, origami paper, puzzles, books, you name it – to greet the children whose ages ranged from infant to 10 years old. The moment our crew entered the room, we’d don our best smiles, in hopes of leaving two hours later with the children reflecting them back. And they did. After many hugs, goodbye waves, and forehead kisses the team would finally depart, to the colourful sight of smiles and silly balloon hats and coloured pencils strewn upon the tables. It is through these visits that I learned so much about the struggles the families face. They were really the ones who taught us the virtues of patience, strength, optimism, kindness. So here I am to share my experience today.
The last visit I went on this year, I met a little girl who was about 7 years old. She showed me how to make an origami balloon – then had to take over my poor lump of a balloon while it still had a chance – and all the while talked to me about the little things in her life, like drawing that she liked to do, and how her mother couldn’t fold origami for her life. She told me about the cool places she had visited in Shanghai, the museums and zoos and parks. When I told her they sounded amazing and I had never been, she said “That’s alright. We can go someday.” The girl paused before saying again, “Let me get better first.”
Those words rang through my head and shattered my heart. Each time I meet a new child and get to know how mature, kind, funny and intelligent they are – wise beyond their years – my heart breaks a little further. I go home feeling warm inside but also bitter, angry that these amazing kids and their families have so much hardship to endure. How can life be so unfair? They don’t deserve this. No one deserves this.
Leukemia is a form of blood cancer affecting blood or bone marrow, causing them to produce abnormal white blood cells. This hinders the body’s immune system and results in fatigue, fevers, pain in the bones and joints, etc. This means for children extensive exercise is not possible, and they must be under careful supervision.
While the illness is curable, the treatment process is not easy, whether it be blood transfusions, chemotherapy, or drugs. Having leukemia or knowing someone with leukemia is never easy. So here’s how you can help.
Visit local hospitals: Get in contact with local hospitals around you and ask if there are any leukemia wards open to visitors. If they’re children, ask if you can bring toys. Spend time with them, talk to them, play with them.
Start a leukemia hospital club at your own school: If your school does not have a designated service club for leukemia, why not start one? I’ve kept our small but surviving club running at my school and though it is not the biggest known club, the people in it describe their experience visiting the kids and fundraising as memorable and worthy. Find all your friends and get together for this cause. Know that you can make a difference, even if it seems small.
The clock ticks bleakly in the quiet room. Colourful drawings from patients hang on the wall, chips of paint peeling in the corners. The second-hand moves slowly but surely. Time has not yet run out.