Skip to content

Barrie-based charity helps 'forgotten patients' dealing with child cancer diagnoses

'There’s still not a huge community for it so having the perspective of another parent who understands what you’re going through is really important,' says OPACC official

Having a family member with cancer is heart-breaking enough, but when that person is your own child it is even more devastating.

That is why Barrie-based charity Ontario Parents Advocating for Children with Cancer (OPACC), works so hard to create awareness and provide support for families throughout Ontario who have a child undergoing cancer treatment.

Created in 1995, OPACC officially became a registered charity in 2006 with a mission to support families across the province who had children diagnosed with cancer.

The organization’s primary way of doing that, explained administrator Sarai Porretta, is through peer-to-peer psychosocial support offered through its parent liaison program in hospital and virtually. 

“We also provide community support through a network of parental support groups throughout Ontario, as well as financial support which can include covering the cost of hospital parking or gift cards for gas and groceries,” she told, adding an organization such as OPACC is one of the few that exist to specifically support families and parents. 

“There’s still not a huge community for it so having the perspective of another parent who understands what you’re going through is really important,” she said, noting OPACC currently has 1,000 member families from across the province, about 40 of whom reside in Barrie. 

“The children themselves, of course, receive excellent supporting care from their health care team at their hospital and have a whole community rallying around them, but the parents, siblings and the rest of the family are often kind of the forgotten patient,” she said. “A lot of parents experience challenges when their child is diagnosed with cancer: Emotional, financial and social challenges, so we are here to support with that.”

The parent-liaison program, said Porretta, is made up of parents who themselves have had a child diagnosed with cancer. 

“They’ve gone down that road before so they understand first-hand the challenges that come with diagnosis and they provide non-medical advice, support, information, resources (and) referrals…all the things a family might need…but most importantly, the listening ear of someone who understands.”

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and one of the ways the organization hopes to raise awareness - and funds - is by selling lawn signs in an attempt to make the organization and the cause more visible.

“Not a lot of people know that September is Child Cancer Awareness Month and that the gold ribbon is a symbol for that. This is just a way to be more visible throughout communities,” she said, adding the signs will be available in communities throughout Ontario.

“Awareness is very important because it leads to advocacy and fighting for (our cause). Only five per cent of cancer research funds in Canada goes to childhood cancer. A lot of these children are being treated with old drugs and old treatment…so the goal is to have become more aware and to advocate so that percentage can increase.”

Next month, OPACC will launch a virtual silent auction and will also partner with a local brewery to create for charity brew for its Our Kids Are Golden campaign. All funds raised from the sales will go to OPACC.