The news was devastating. Sandi Frank and her husband, Kenneth, had just been told that a rare form of cancer was spreading through the body of their 9-month-old son, Max.
Beside themselves, they reached out to family and friends for support. One of those friends turned to Lori Hardoon, director of the Partners in Dignity Program, who immediately drove from her office in Syosset to Schneider Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park, where the Franks were caring for their son.
"They saved our lives," said Sandi Frank of Commack. "I’ve never been more proud to be Jewish. The support we have felt from the Jewish world has been wonderful. It makes you so proud; it’s amazing."
Hardoon noted that her program, part of UJA-Federation’s Jewish Healing and Hospice Alliance, "is one of UJA-Federation’s largest initiatives."
The alliance has three regional care centers: in Westchester, the city and Long Island. With one call to the alliance for help, families dealing with a serious, life-limiting or terminal illness can receive a host of different services.
"It’s a seamless system and it has really worked," said Hardoon.
She said that although her program has worked with 1,400 people since it began in September 2003, the Frank’s case is unique not only because of the age of the patient but because of the vast array of services the Franks have needed.
Their needs have been compounded by the fact that they have another child, Jake, who recently turned 4, and the fact that they are experiencing enormous financial problems.
"I left my job a couple of months after the baby was born because I noticed that he was constantly having medical issues, and he had not been diagnosed [with cancer] at that point," said Sandi Frank, 39, a social worker who had been director of an adult health care program in Rego Park. She said her husband, four years her senior, is a mortgage banker "who was building his own business" when Max was diagnosed with cancer last October. "Once my son was diagnosed with cancer, my husband missed a ton of work and he has pulled in no income this year," she said. "We are applying for Medicaid. Our lives have completely fallen apart."
Since the diagnosis, Max has undergone a successful surgery and recent test results have been good, but given the severity of the illness it’s still too early to evaluate Max’s long-term prognosis.
Hardoon said that once she was notified, she worked to "pull the community together to help" the Franks and that UJA-Federation’s network of volunteers, professionals and spiritual caregivers have pitched in. "The community has really bonded together to support this family," she said.
Four volunteers took turns providing respite care to "alleviate the familyís burden of having to be hands on with the baby 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Hardoon said. "One of them has driven the family to New York City when treatment had to be given at [Memorial] Sloan-Kettering" Cancer Center, Hardoon pointed out. "They were there day after day to help this family."
There were other volunteers (more than a dozen) who helped in getting clothing for the children and in providing food.
The Suffolk Y JCC has waived its fees so that Jake could attend pre-school there. The Hazilu Rescue Organization in Baldwin has helped the family financially. Cancer Care, a member of the alliance, and the American Cancer Society both provided money to help with transportation costs from Commack to the city. Sandi Frank said she herself learned about Chai Lifeline, which runs a summer camp for children with cancer and regularly provided the family with kosher meals.
"They gave us a sense of warmth at a time when we felt we were dying," she said. "Their support was more important than the food." Rabbi Steven Moss, a hospital chaplain and spiritual leader of B’nai Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale, is part of the alliance’s spiritual care team. Rabbi Alan Lavin is the alliance’s representative in Nassau.
Hardoon said the alliance has "created a synergy between the top Jewish social service agencies in the UJA-Federation network. … We have hit against walls, but we have been able to find ways around any barriers."