Battling illness and disability hand in hand

Shelly  Gigante

Posted on May 01, 2019

Shelly Gigante specializes in personal finance issues. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications and news websites.
Close up of young Caucasian boy wearing an external cochlear implant

They’re present in every community, the silent crusaders who spring into action when one of their own gets diagnosed with a disability or serious illness.

They are the co-workers, classmates, and congregations who ask, “How can I help?” They are the friends who organize meal trains, teammates who create carpools, and shopkeepers who host fundraisers to help pay for medical bills.

Like a warm embrace, they rally around their neighbors in need because they know in their hearts that hope can heal the human spirit. And because, in moments of crisis, a fundamental truth is revealed —we are stronger together.

Take the town of Newton, Massachusetts, where an entire neighborhood hired a private instructor to teach them sign language so they could speak to a 2-year-old resident. The child’s parents told a local news station they were overwhelmed by the show of support.1

One Newton resident said the effort has given them something greater — a sense of purpose. Helping communicate with the young girl “is giving us a reason to come together,” she told CBS. “So, I think she is doing something for us, rather than the other way around."

In some cases, it’s strangers who reach out, like the postal worker in Minneapolis, Minnesota who started a fundraiser called “Hearts of Hope” after hearing that a homeowner on her route was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. The postal worker, a breast cancer survivor herself, encouraged local residents to help pay for costly treatment — and the donations poured in. She also personally delivered 101 red heart-shaped balloons to the homeowner’s front lawn.

Adults do not hold the monopoly on acts of kindness, however. At an elementary school in Broomfield, Colorado, some 80 students (along with three teachers and both principals) shaved their heads in solidarity with a 9-year-old classmate, who was returning to school after battling cancer. The hair shaving fundraiser, initiated by the child's best friend, raised more than $25,000 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which supports childhood cancer research.

“I didn’t think that many people would shave their heads, but I feel good about going back to school and not being the only bald one,” the returning student told

Taking community support online

These days, however, community support is no longer confined to neighbors who knock on doors. Online platforms are giving patients (and their caregivers) the power to create circles of support for themselves.

Neighbor Brigade, for example, establishes community-specific volunteer networks that can be mobilized to help residents facing sudden crisis. Using web-based coordination tools, the nonprofit group recruits volunteers to fulfill requests for assistance with day-to-day tasks such as meal preparation, rides, and household chores.

MyLifeLine, through the Cancer Support Community, also enables cancer patients to create a personalized website to share their journey with family and friends, foster new connections, and coordinate help as needed. They can also use the website to educate themselves about their specific cancer type and find inspiration through the supportive messages they receive.

(Learn more: Living and coping with a hidden disability )

Similarly, Disabilities-R-Us is a chat room and virtual support group created by and for people with physical disabilities who are looking to make friends and share their experience.

Online networks exist for the parents and caregivers of people with disabilities, too, who often experience emotional and financial stress. Caregiver Space offers private Facebook groups for caregivers who need support and encouragement — or simply a venue to vent. Mommies of Miracles and Different Dream websites also provide educational resources and grief support to parents of special needs children.

(Learn more: Financial advice for special-needs families )

When communities come together, whether online or in person, they can move mountains.

By rallying behind their neighbors in need, they give those battling a sudden illness or disability the support they need to focus on their health. And they send a message loud and clear that they do not fight alone.


Learn more from MassMutual…

Staying fit with a disability

How much disability income insurance do I need?

Need financial advice? Contact us

This article was originally published in April 2019.



CBS News, “This 2-year-old deaf girl loves people — so the whole neighborhood is learning sign language,” Feb. 17, 2019., “80 students shave head to support classmate with cancer returning to school,” April 14, 2016.

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