Wishing Big for Childhood Cancer Patients

When Finley Holland was eight months old, a doctor discovered a tumor in her Children do a puzzle togethercheek. Her parents, Lions Tony and Stacy, began the grim routine so many families face when their children are sick. Appointment after appointment, they struggled to keep Finley entertained and distracted before an uncomfortable procedure or needle prink. They found games and books helped. Anything to keep her distracted.

“Play is a great distraction for kids,” says Jaime Libes, Finley’s oncologist. “It takes their minds off the needle that is about to come or the medicine that is about to make them feel sick.”

Luckily, Finley was treated with an oral medication to shrink her tumor at the St. Jude Midwest Affiliate in Peoria, Illinois, USA, and now Finley is a vibrant 5-year-old with a love for unicorns and playing with her big brother, AJ.

Little girl hugs her fatherThe Holland family, of Silvis, Illinois, understood that they were lucky and wanted to give back to kids and families going through a cancer diagnosis. Besides Finley’s tumor, cancer has personally impacted the Holland family—from Tony losing a childhood friend to cancer, and, unfortunately, knowing other parents who lost children way too soon.

That’s why Tony turned to his Lions Club to inspire members to donate gift cards for toys for the clinic, but he knew that he wanted to do even more. With the support of Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF), Tony and Stacy and Lions Dave and Cheryl Russell, decided to magnify their impact for kids with cancer.

“Treatment is a very boring process, and I wanted to help the kids go through it,” says Tony.

That’s why they decided to update the educational and recreational resources at OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois to help “kids be kids.” The St. Jude affiliate clinic is part of the OSF Children’s Hospital that provides care for thousands of children throughout central Illinois.

With financial support from District 1-H, he applied for a childhood cancer grant from LCIF for US$20,000, and a District and Club Community Impact Grant (DCG), making the total contribution to the hospital more than US$41,000.

“When families are going through something that we can’t control like childhood cancer, and we as Lions are not stepping up for them, then what are we doing as Lions,” says Tony Holland.

After applying for the grant, the Holland and Russell families turned to Allison West, a child life specialist at OSF Children’s Hospital, who helps children and their families navigate the hospital setting, for a wish list. She initially only put together a small wish list for the project, but Tony told them to “wish bigger.”

“It is really hard to wish like that because we don’t always get to wish big,” says West, who used the funds to expand their ability to serve their patients. “The Lions took my wish list and got every single one checked off.”

Items on the list included Xbox® consoles, Chromebooks, sensory tables, wall boards, gaming systems, educational dolls, Nintendo® switches, and a custom-built playhouse retrofitted with touchscreen monitors for activities.

Not only did they donate the items, but Dave Russell built an ADA-compliant play structure in his garage and delivered it to the hospital in the spring of 2022.

More than 5,000 children will have access to the playground and educational materials every year because of the combined efforts of both families, the entire Lions district, and LCIF. The Holland and Russell families are forever grateful that they were able to help provide care and comfort to these little warriors.

“With the support of LCIF, we allowed the hospital staff to “wish big” for every single child and parent that enters their doors,” says Tony.

Learn more about LCIF’s childhood cancer grant or watch a video to see how LCIF enabled the hospital to “wish big.” To support LCIF, visit lionsclubs.org/waystogive.