Noelle Austin

Childhood Cancer… Two words a parent never wants to hear. Unfortunately you never have that choice. Luckily there is an amazing organization right here in Ontario, called Help a Child Smile. Help a Child Smile is a charity that gives everything back to families battling childhood cancer.

Help a Child Smile was kick started in 1986 by a family that wanted to grant a wish of a brave girl named Kacey-Lynn Rainville. Kacey-Lynn wanted to have a “normal” kid day and go to Canada’s Wonderland and this family made it happen for her. The idea took off and the organization grew overnight. By 1987 it became a registered charity, bringing smiles and happiness to families that lives were otherwise faced with hospital visits, treatment and heartaches.

Pokes, scans, and testing weren’t always part of my life. I was a typical 3 year old preschooler when I was diagnosed with stage 4 Embroyal Rhabdomyosarcoma. My parents really had no idea what was going on, aside from my tummy getting bigger. So they had me checked out by our family doctor. I was sent for testing and was quickly referred to McMaster Children’s Hospital, where I diagnosed and had two major surgeries in less than a week. The first one was to remove a tumour the size of a nerf football and part of my bladder. The second was to have my port put in so that I could start chemo therapy as soon as I was able to regain my strength. The game plan for my treatment was 54 weeks of chemo and 5 weeks of radiation. My cancer was extremely aggressive and being stage 4, the treatment beat me up and nearly took two years for me to get through it.

I have five full sets of Bravery Bead Necklaces, and I’ve had more blood transfusions, scans, and tests then you could ever imagine. Bravery Beads is a program offered to all children treated for cancer. Each bead represents something different, every poke, each day of chemo and radiation, hospital admission, surgery, or a procedure. Help a Child Smile sponsors a bead, and there are even beads for Birthdays, Christmas and other special holidays spent in the hospital.

Going into their 30th year, Help a Child Smile, aka HACS, has helped over 1,100 families at McMaster Children’s Hospital. These numbers are constantly growing, as each day there are more children being diagnosed with cancer. HACS helps on average 150 kids on active treatment, at any given time. HACS plans many family events throughout the year from Disney on Ice, Canada’s Wonderland, African Lion Safari, The Rodeo in Paris, Merrittville Speedway & the annual Christmas Party. The biggest surprise Help a Child Smile presents to families is usually done in style at one of their fundraisers and events.

My trip was granted at the Brantford Navy Club when I was 6 years old. When we got there my sister and I went with Cinderella, Belle, and Hannah Montana so that we could dress up in costume. When we came back out to the party, the lights were turned down low, small colourful lights were twinkling and Disney music was playing. There had to be 200 people in the room including Gord Painter and Walter Gretzky. We had a small dance party where everyone watched us and then it happened, Sandra Allan grabbed the microphone and gave me an envelope and presented me my trip to Disney.

This is a once in a lifetime, 7-day trip to Give Kids the World in Orlando, Florida which includes limousine, airfare, with tickets to Disney World, Universal Studio, Sea World and many more. At the village the options are endless with a 24/7 unlimited ice cream, dino mini putt, fishing, swimming, playgrounds and a giant life like game of Candy Land just to name a few. Each night there is a themed party from Mayor Claytons Hare Raising Halloween to a pirate and princess party. Each HACS child gets to make a wish and write their name on a star, and then the star-fairy magically places the star on the ceiling of the castle of miracles. HACS is a non-profit organization that makes sure the money goes to only the families and not in the pockets of the ones running it.

There are many ways to help support Help a Child Smile, one way is to volunteer but because I’m only 12 I have to wait a few more years but I can still attend one of the many fundraising events for Help a Child Smile.   I’ve had a garage sale and all the money I raised; I donated to HACS because every nickel counts and they all add up to make a difference.  I would like to make more awareness of Help a Child Smile and all of the wonderful things they do for families affected by childhood cancer because kids can’t fight cancer alone! My treatment was tough on me. I am now 12 years old and I still face the side effects every day. I have an amazing team of doctors at McMaster Oncology, Cardiology, Endocrinology, and Gastro that I still visit routinely. I am completely thankful to Help a Child Smile for allowing me to feel like a normal kid and have a normal kid day.  I am a fighter, I am tough, and I am a childhood cancer survivor.