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  • Bridgette's Story: Facing cancer in an unfamiliar city – with help

    Bridgette West

    Bridgette West sparkled last fall in the "Fight Song" music video created by patients at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. But before the 2-year-old became a social media standout with her dancing, she and her family faced challenges that went far beyond a cancer diagnosis.

    In the summer of 2015, after struggling for a year with misdiagnosed illnesses, Bridgette and her parents traveled from their Albany, New York, home to Dana-Farber/Boston Children's. There, tests confirmed she had neuroblastoma, and while Bridgette started treatment, her parents, Roger and Beth, took turns driving 175 miles to take care of Bridgette's 5-year-old sister, Trinity, and see other family members back home.

    It was a difficult period, as Roger was taking time off from his job, and the family continued to pay rent on an empty Albany apartment while expenses piled up in Boston.

    "That was a hectic, crazy time," recalls Roger. "Once we realized what we were facing with Bridgette's cancer – including surgery – we looked around at the incredible people taking care of us here and decided to move and be here all the time."

    Every new patient family at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's meets with a social worker or a psychologist from the Pediatric Psychosocial Oncology Program, along with a member of the center's Pediatric Resource Program. Deborah Berk, MSW, LICSW, helped the Wests with the psychosocial challenges of facing cancer in an unfamiliar city, while Joe Chabot, MS, assisted them with accessing financial assistance.

    Bridgette West

    "The needs and assistance patients qualify for differ from family to family," says Chabot. "We have a Pediatric Resource Fund that helps eligible families with expenses related to their child's care, including meal support for parents during long hospital admissions. Sometimes we are also able to help families access financial aid from external foundations."

    Gifts cards gave the Wests day-to-day support, and grants from four different pediatric cancer foundations helped with several rent payments – both for the apartment back in Albany and a new one in nearby Braintree, Mass., once they decided to move. When Roger was ready to go back to work, his company transferred him to a Massachusetts office. Friends have also chipped in with help.

    "The support we got from the doctors, nurses, Joe, Deb, and everybody else at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's was incredible," says Beth. "So many people were willing to help us in so many ways. We miss home, but have no regrets about moving."

    They also have good news to start the new year. Bridgette had surgery in late November to remove her tumor, and has since been cancer-free. Suzanne Shusterman, MD, Bridgette's oncologist, even okayed a move back to Albany.

    While they have come to love their adopted city, for the Wests, there's no place like home.

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      Boston Children's has been ranked #1 or #2 for pediatric cancer care nine times since 2008 by U.S. News & World Report.