Despite recovering from cancer, Noah Lifka, 9, is still in the high-risk category. His family shares how others can help families like theirs during the pandemic.
When Noah Lifka, of Elyria, was 4 years old, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), which affects the blood and bone marrow and attacks white blood cells. He experienced three and half years of treatment, and rang his end-of-treatment bell in August 2019. In 2020, he was named the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Northern Ohio Chapter’s Boy of the Year.
Now, at age 9, and the oldest of four siblings, he remains in a high risk category for relapse. He’s a resilient kid, having gone through his chemotherapy treatments and a modified school schedule, as well as always being extra careful in terms of germs because of his suppressed immune system. So when COVID-19 hit this year, the family wasn’t thrown for too big of a loop.
“I feel like in the beginning with the stay-at-home order it was easier for our family than I would imagine other families, because this had been a way we lived our lives for so long. Then, it went on and on,” says Alesha Lifka, Noah’s mother. “We’re used to it, but at the same time, it’s challenging for us because I feel like we’re more cautious than maybe even the average cautious parent out there.”
The Lifka family has been limiting exposure as much as possible by staying home, sanitizing, wearing masks and steering clear of crowds and playgrounds. Their diligence has its benefits because it reduces the risk of any of them being exposed to COVID-19, but it also can be lonely, Lifka says.
“I would imagine a lot of other cancer families are feeling the same, where you really kind of keep everything pretty close knit. You circle the wagons, and put up your bubble,” she adds.
When schools closed this spring, Noah had a hard time, missing his friends and classmates. The Lifka family has had a few play dates with other families who are also being cautious with interactions, and they have taken nature walks to get out of the house a bit. But he misses other kids.
“We talk about COVID, and we try to explain it to him in ways that he would understand,” Lifka says. “We want to keep him safe and we want grandma to be safe. We’re trying our best. I think he’s really good at rolling with the punches at this point, but I also know that it’s kind of getting him down.”
A Little Help from Their Friends
When Noah was first diagnosed, the Lifkas quickly noticed a split among their friends. Some friends, even those they had for a long time, didn’t know how to react and they lost touch.
“I get it. What do you say to a cancer parent?” Lifka says. “Sometimes for people, it’s easier for them not to say anything and then go about their lives.”
But they also had friends who rallied around the family and reached out to help however they could.
“It was a big shift when that happened, but we have found the people that have stayed around us are really amazing people,” she says. “We appreciate them so much.”
The same friends who were extra helpful and gracious during Noah’s diagnosis and treatment have similarly stepped up to help during the pandemic.
“My husband was furloughed for a few months from his job,” Lifka says. “It was a super stressful time. We had people reach out and check in to say, ‘How are you doing? Can I drop anything off to your house?’”
Their friends have done store runs for them and are understanding about the family’s caution, not expecting them to come to events or gatherings and not making them feel guilty about staying home.
Having that line of communication open and regularly checking in to let the family know that someone is thinking of them helps to mitigate the feelings of isolation, particularly during times of quarantine, Lifka says. Thoughtful friends running errands and dropping off coffee at the house have helped the Lifkas stay home and safe.
“The deliveries are amazing because it’s one less trip I have to do,” she says. “If I can avoid going to the store and if someone is going there anyway, it seems small to a lot of people, but for a family like ours, that’s a big deal where now that’s the one less risk we have to take this month.”
If you know a family that’s hunkered down due extra risk, the best way to help is to keep reaching out, keep sending messages and help them in any way you can. But, most importantly, make sure they know you are there for them, even if you can’t be with them face-to-face.