Written by Robert Peterpaul
Reviewed for Medical Accuracy by Micheal Guerrera
“Inspire a smile.” Those three words became a family mantra after my younger brother, Thomas, was diagnosed with child cancer.
If you ask my parents, they’ll credit the saying to his ever-resilient smile, and that’s true. However, it’s also true that they inspired the phrase themselves.
Amidst the endless hospital visits and rounds of chemo, my parents never gave up on trying to make their child smile. They found power in a time where our little family unit felt utterly powerless. With each amazing dream gift, they gave Thomas slices of heaven while he was going through hell.
From celebrity shout-outs to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, here are five ideas that will hopefully bring a smile to your child’s face, even in the face of child cancer.
1. Reach out to their favorite public figure
Every child has a role model, whether it’s an actor, athlete or writer. Make it your goal to get in touch with that person. It’s often not as hard as you might think! Many public figures make time for their younger supporters, especially ones stricken with hardship. This is done through organizations such as the Make a Wish Foundation.
My brother had several idols, but as a huge Rocky fan, one of his biggest was Sylvester Stallone. My parents got in touch with the star’s team, and guess what? He sent over signed boxing gloves and a photo, on which he wrote, “Keep fighting.”
2. Grant them unforgettable experiences
Narrow in on your child’s beloved interests. Is it baseball? Video games? Perhaps animals? Once you’ve picked one of their hobbies, think about how you can grant your child an experience that relates to it.
For instance, Thomas loved music, specifically rock bands like Aerosmith. Once again, my parents made the impossible possible by scoring him a VIP pass to their concert. He went backstage to hang out with Steven Tyler in his dressing room, watched the band play from the wings, and even got a shout-out during his favorite song Dream On.
Of course, you don’t have to get your child a meeting with Steven Tyler to give them an unforgettable experience. Even just spending a fun day with them doing all their favorite things can mean the world.
3. Make their dreams come true
Remember, you’re not alone in your mission to bring your child smiles: There are countless organizations that specialize in exactly this.
One of the most well-known is Make-A-Wish Foundation, which has chapters all over the world. Working with them was one of the most incredible things our family got to do. Thomas wished for a miniature dachshund, who became part of our family for years after.
4. Don't skimp on "the little things"
Some of the biggest smiles are grown in the smallest moments. Although life is vastly different, try not to deprive your child of “the little things,” like fun family meals, movie nights, and bedtime stories. These experiences can provide vital levity in hard times. Get well soon gifts and treats are always appreciated.
5. Surround them with friends and family
The simplest and most powerful way to make your child smile is to blanket them with love from their inner circle. Allow for frequent in-person or virtual visits from friends and family—even simple phone calls can boost spirits. Let the child attend any school parties or play dates they want to, if they're able and their medical team gives approval. Help friends and family deliver get well soon gifts when they offer.
Never forget that we can always bring bouts of light into the darkness. My parents taught me that important life lesson as they experienced one of the most horrible things a parent can face. As Nat King Cole croons in one of our favorite songs: “When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by if you smile through your fear and sorrow.”