By Jessica Brodie (updated 12/6/17)
SPARTANBURG—Horrible stuff happens to the most beautiful people. Tom Russell has seen it too many times.
“We don’t know why,” he says, recounting the stories: the 16-year-old who came seeking hope and a cure—and died just a month later. The 10-year-old in remission five years from leukemia who was bouncing in a bounce house one day, then rushed to the hospital the next, cancer back with a vengeance. The families who go from riches to rags in a heartbeat when they get the diagnosis, barely scraping by on one income while the other takes a child for chemotherapy and other treatment.
Those are the stories that make Russell cry, make him turn to God and to his fellow Christians with all his hopes and fears and dreams tied up in one word: Help. Just help.
Help is exactly what Russell and his team try to do: help in the form of hope, love and immediate practical support to families as they seek treatment for childhood cancer.
Their organization is newly renamed Children’s Cancer Partners of the Carolinas, a nonprofit organization that grew locally “out of a Methodist church and a Methodist heart,” Russell said. They provide transportation, lodging, meals for families and other needs so families can focus on what really matters: being there for their beloved child as he or she battles the most frightening illness imaginable.
No child is ever turned away, Russell said; God always makes it happen.
“I lose three kids a year. I carry every emotion with me. My wife says I’m either up here or I’m down here,” Russell said, holding his hand to his head and then to the floor. “We just have faith.”
‘A blanket of love’
Fifteen years ago Russell, today in his 80s, wanted to help children and their families going through cancer. He wasn’t exactly sure what God had in mind.
But Russell is a man of faith. A longtime United Methodist whose grandfather was a Methodist minister, he said, “I spend time talking to God day in and day out, and God always answers.”
One day, Russell said, “Bingo—God answered. He said, ‘Tom, let’s wrap that family in a blanket of love.’
“So we did.”
With God at the fore and Russell determined to follow His lead, Children’s Cancer Partners of the Carolinas (formerly called The Children’s Security Blanket) grew out of a project by the Greater Spartanburg Optimist club, and Trinity United Methodist Church, Spartanburg, had a huge hand in its development. It was a simple premise: find a family living with childhood cancer, figure out what they need and give it to them. And that’s what they’ve done over and over for the last 15 years, from the first child they helped to the most recent.
“We got a call yesterday, Sunday: ‘Mr. Russell, we’ve got a new child, just diagnosed, life and death, she’s got to go to Philadelphia immediately.’ Well, guess where she’s sitting right now? Philadelphia!” Russell said. “We bought her plane ticket immediately. Immediately!”
Cancer is rough for anyone, but when it affects children, it affects the entire family in every way possible—particularly financially. When the diagnosis comes in, Russell said, everything changes. They go from a two- to a one-income family in moments. Somebody loses a job to care for the child.
That’s where Children’s Cancer Partners of the Carolinas comes in. As Russell says, “We are instantaneous.”
Whatever they need, poof—they get it. Water bill needs paid? Check. Car needs gas? Check. Mom needs a ride two hours away to the hospital so Little Johnny can get chemotherapy? Check.
“One team gave an old-fashioned Methodist pounding—pots, pans, helped them get back on their feet, took care of the power bill, put food on the table,” Russell said. “That’s what we do.”
Miracle upon miracle
Russell said what the ministry really needs is not money; in fact, he’s never had to beg for one penny, he said, for God always provides. They need people—people to spread the word, people to look within their congregations to see if there is a child fighting cancer, people to look into their own hearts to see what they can do to be Jesus to families facing this difficult time.
“Just reach out and help: Can I take your child to Greenville for treatment? Can I cook dinner for your family? Can I buy you gas? There are churches all over South Carolina that pitch in and help,” Russell said.
One man gave his penthouse in New York for a family to stay in while their child was there getting treatment. Another donor in Florida gave a gift so large Russell said The Children’s Security Blanket is now covered 100 percent in South Carolina and North Carolina and extending into Georgia. He’s even been able to hire an executive director.
“I have seen miracle upon miracle in this organization,” Russell said. “Lay your faith on the table; it works.”
To learn more about Children’s Cancer Partners of the Carolinas, visit http://childrenscancerpartners.org/ or call 864-582-0673.
By Jessica Brodie (updated 12/6/17)