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Childhood Cancer: Making The Difference Between Life & Death

Her child’s battle against cancer inspired this mum to help others.

By Sean Yee      13 September 2022

While the SAFRA Diaper Dash may be focused on its endearing toddlers, it does have a greater purpose. All proceeds from this year’s SAFRA Diaper Dash will go to the President’s Challenge and SAF Care Fund which will then be used to support displaced and struggling individuals.

One of SAFRA Diaper Dash’s main beneficiaries is LOVE, NILS, a charity that provides hope and support to children with cancer. We chatted with Lesli Berggren, the charity’s founder and executive director, who shared more about her organisation and its activities.  

If you’re eager to make a difference in someone’s life, we urge you to donate generously as every bit helps. You can express your support here. 

 

Q: How did it all begin for LOVE, NILS?

Lesli: I’m originally from Texas and have been living in Singapore since 1998. My son, Nils, was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma in 2012, at the age of 13. For a year, he was treated at the National University Hospital (NUH) under the amazing care of the children’s cancer department and had even managed to receive a cancer-beating stem cell transplant. It was nothing less than a miracle!

This however, led to complications that brought us to Seattle Children’s Hospital in the US. Despite getting the treatment he needed, he passed away five months later. After which, I returned to Singapore to take care of his twin sister, Claire. It took me years to grieve for my son and heal. I started documenting and writing about this entire experience, only to realise that Nils’ unique journey has provided me profound insights on childhood cancer which can benefit other Singaporean parents and children in a similar circumstance. More importantly, I wanted to alleviate some of the struggles I knew they were facing. 

It all started in 2015, when I began hosting annual toy donation events for the children’s cancer wards at NUH. I had wanted to memorialise my son’s passing. The smiles and hugs from these children after these events however, pushed me to do more. I registered my charity, LOVE, NILS in 2017; my son always signed off his “thank you” letters to his supporters with Love, Nils and I wanted the charity to commemorate this memory.  

Photo: Lesli Berggren, founder of LOVE, NILS.

Q: How does LOVE, NILS support kids with early cancer diagnoses? Which of your initiatives do you personally find to be the most impactful?

Lesli: We provide a Care Coordinator who serves as a guide for affected kids and families. Childhood cancer is invariably complicated, and families will need a key figure with the means to provide them access to the necessary care and treatments. This centralised support role can also advise families on non-insured expenses such as transportation, childcare, and outside nursing care so that they can carefully consider their options. 

Additionally, we also provide individualised educational support through licensed tutors from Boutique Education, as well as art kits and online art sessions, amongst many other initiatives. 

My favourite event must be Captain America. We had “Captain America” visit families’ homes and hospital rooms every Children’s Day to remind them that they are not alone in their fight. 

Q: What are some common misunderstandings people have about childhood cancer?

Lesli: “Childhood cancers are so rare that they are often difficult to diagnose”, as explained to me by a lead paediatric oncology doctor whom we work with. Unlike adult cancers, childhood cancers aren’t attributed to lifestyle or environmental risk factors. It is mostly unpreventable as the causes are incredibly difficult to determine. In fact, only a small percentage of such diagnoses are a result of genetics. 

Q: What do these families and kids need most urgently during this difficult period of their lives?

Lesli: Medical treatment for the kid is indisputably critical. However, many neglect the emotional toll that comes with this disruptive disease. They need strong guidance and reinforcement that can lead them through the suffering, trepidation, and emotional ramifications of dealing with this long-term illness, often which can make the difference between life and death. 

Q: What’s the one thing from your time at LOVE, NILS that resonates with you the most?

Lesli: The smiles and hugs from our beneficiaries. I fondly remember a young boy at one of our toy donations who had been undergoing treatment for over two years. He ran up to me and gave me hugs, kisses and thank-yous that just did not stop. 

The journey can be especially daunting – the charity has had its fair share of struggles. But it is these simple moments of gratitude that fuels my drive to continue my life’s work. 

Q: Looking back, can you share some of your proudest moments at LOVE, NILS?

Lesli: One of our proudest moments was being able to donate $100,000 in our first year as a charity to fund a Care Coordinator position in NUH’s paediatric oncology wards. This was my first goal for the charity.

Q: What are some of your fundraising goals for this year?

Lesli: We actually have an exciting list of ongoing and upcoming fundraising projects lined up this year! September is internationally recognised as Childhood Cancer Awareness month, and we are commemorating its significance at our “Shine A Lightcampaign. We also have an art exhibition coined ‘Stories of Hopecurrently held at Fullerton Hotel until 25 September. It features artworks done by our beneficiaries and their siblings. 

I’m especially excited for 12 November, for it is then we will host our annual fundraiser. This is an especially momentous event as it celebrates LOVE, NILS’ fifth year as a charity. If you would like to support us, do consider buying a ticket!  

Q: How is SAFRA’S Diaper Dash supporting LOVE, NILS this year?

Lesli: We are most thankful to SAFRA Punggol for choosing LOVE, NILS as their charity of choice for this year’s SAFRA Diaper Dash. Sadly, I will not be able to attend this fantastic event, as I am in the US currently taking care of family matters. I look forward to hearing all about it and wish you great success at the event!

The SAFRA Diaper Dash finals are happening from 10-11 Sep. Other than cheering on the adorable participants, you can also do your part by making a donation. All proceeds will go to the President’s Challenge and SAF Care Fund, of which one of the beneficiaries is LOVE, NILS.

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