Church gives children with cancer a special day – and a parent reflects

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Over 140 families of children with childhood cancer celebrated Christmas and a day of rest and fun over the weekend at a South Australian pentecostal church.

Edge Church International, which has three Adelaide campuses and a Melbourne outpost, hosted the Childhood Cancer Association’s Christmas festival for the fifth year at its Reynella campus. The annual event saw hundreds of Edge Church volunteers serve the families in attendance.

Adrian Blenkinsop’s family was just one of those who went along. Adrian’s 8-year-old daughter Imogen was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer in October 2013 and he says the Christmas festival is now a regular feature on their family calendar.

“For us, it’s great to see a church really putting themselves out and serving families like ours. Lots of families dealing with childhood cancer just don’t have the support that we do. There are many very vulnerable, fragile families out there. So, to go to a church that’s set up for a day to love and support you – no strings attached – is just really unique for many families,” said Adrian.

From left: Santa, Imogen, Micah, Adrian and Karen Blenkinsop.

From left: Santa, Imogen, Micah, Adrian and Karen Blenkinsop.

Edge Church’s Reynella campus, once a sprawling site for community markets, was on Saturday turned in to a type of wonderland, both for the children and their parents. Car rides in Lamborghinis and Bentleys, animal farms, jumping castles, indoor cricket and soccer, ice cream makers and lolly stations were just some of the activities set up for the invitation-only event that welcomed over 580 people.

“Father Christmas is there, and each child gets a gift and each family, a gift pack. It’s just a place where you can go and enjoy,” said Adrian.

When Imogen was diagnosed with cancer, Adrian said his whole world changed. Imogen had surgery to remove a three-centimetre tumour, then six weeks of radiation to her brain and upper spine followed by nine months of chemotherapy.

“I used to pray every night that God would protect my children, and I really needed to think through that and how I trust in God through this time,” said Adrian.

Adrian says in the lead up to Christmas he and his wife, Karen, are also thinking through how to teach Imogen and their older son Micah how to show some of the generosity they’ve experienced to others. He says there’s been lots of goodwill toward his family, and it’s important to teach his kids a sense of generosity too.

“Immie has been given lots of presents over the past couple of months. There’s just lots of goodwill and gifts, people really looking after us. The challenge is that kids can come to see that as normal. You know, Immie was a princess at a ball at another charity event we were invited to, and she was given lots of gift vouchers. We don’t want it to turn into an expectation or thinking that she deserves all these gifts over other people. We’re encouraging her to think about how she could be generous too. And Christmas for us is an important time to do that.”

But days like Saturday are very special for the Blenkinsops; a welcome day of fun in what can otherwise be a very serious time.

While Imogen finished chemotherapy last year, and is doing well, doctors are monitoring her very closely because her sort of cancer often grows back. Adrian says the family now lives with a continuing sense of uncertainty.

“When your child has a life-threatening illness, it never ends. There’s a sense with any family with a child with cancer that you’re never quite through it. So you live with uncertainty and the chance that it’ll come back. It’s never over.”

Adrian says learning to trust God has been difficult in a situation where it feels there are no answers.

“I’ve been learning that faith and trust in God is about holding on in the midst of no answers. In something like this you can feel so out of control. But that’s just one way of approaching it. There’s a lot we still have control over. So each day, I ask God: What does it mean to trust you today? With all the unknowns, it’s a choice everyday to trust God. And what that looks like is different every day, whether I’m stressed, freaking out or exhausted. Or when Immie is feeling healthy. Daily, even hourly, I keep asking what it means to trust God today.”

Editor’s Note: Adrian Blenkinsop is an employee of Bible Society Australia.

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