The experience of Chinese families

Ivy, Jennifer, and Dana are Chinese moms who live in B.C. They have navigated childhood cancer and blood disorders since living here. They founded the Chinese Gold Ribbon Society of Canada to help other families who have a child with a serious illness. In this blog, they describe why they founded the society and the support they provide.

Five of the women from the Chinese Gold Ribbon Society of Canada received “The Best Team Award” from the United Global Chinese Women’s Association of Canada in 2020. The photo is of them receiving their award, wearing yellow ribbons.

When our children were receiving treatment in the children’s hospital, we had the opportunity to meet many families from different backgrounds. We greatly appreciated the support from kind-hearted individuals and wonderful organizations. 


However, as immigrants from China, our cultural background often makes us hesitant to express our feelings to others or ask for help during challenging times. This is especially true in critical situations like when your child has cancer. Many Chinese families also have limited English, which makes the situation even more challenging for them. We found that, to bridge the cultural challenge, it’s necessary to have a support system of people who understand your feelings and circumstances. That’s why, in 2020, we founded the Chinese Gold Ribbon Society of Canada.

A group of women from the Chinese Gold Ribbon Society of Canada receiving a large fundraising cheque at an event.

Dana: I need an emotional release during stressful times – a space to share my anxiety, depression, and concerns so that I can stay mentally well. I find a lot of Chinese families still keep it inside of them. If we can connect together as families whose kids are sick, then we have somebody to talk to with similar experiences and emotions. That can be really supportive during treatment, or even afterwards. 


Ivy and I first started talking when she brought me food in the hospital. I found it really sweet, and I wanted other parents to have that too. Not all parents on the ward find it easy to reach out and start that connection. So, we started this society to help Chinese families through providing help with translation, offering gifts, and giving toys to their children. 


In July of this year, we received our official charitable status. As founders, we are all Chinese mums and we started by helping other Chinese parents, but we now support any family on T8 in the children’s hospital.

Ivy with Sammi, another oncology mom, delivering gifts to BC Children's Hospital
Ivy with Sammi, another oncology mom, delivering gifts to BC Children's Hospital

The challenges Chinese families face


Finding emotional outlets


Dana: When your child has cancer, it’s normal to at times feel sad, scared, and hopeless. My immediate reaction was to feel blacked out and dissipated. While my husband and his family were so supportive, many others hold such a huge thing to themselves. We want to be a bridge for caregivers to connect together and share their different emotions.

Managing shock on top of culture shock


Jennifer: I remember my family doctor called at 7PM and asked if I was ok to drive. She said: “Get your daughter and go to BC Children’s Hospital immediately.” They did a whole bunch of tests and told me the bad news: “Your daughter is diagnosed with leukemia.” My first thought was, “What is leukemia?” I had only heard the word in a TV drama before, and it felt like the end of the world. That feeling crushed me.

You don’t necessarily know how to communicate with the nurses and doctors, or how to find support and resources. All the complicated medical words are confusing. What is B-cell leukaemia? Why does this medication have 16 letters in one word??

My mom is a doctor in China, and I grew up around hospitals. I did some research and found so many treatment and medication differences between China and here. I didn’t know who to talk to. It felt scary and confusing.


Dealing with guilt


Jennifer: Once you hear your child is sick, you can immediately wonder, “Did I do something wrong?” When I first met with an oncologist, the first thing they said to me was “This is not your fault.” They knew I needed that reassurance.


Reducing isolation


Jennifer: We spent 15 days in the hospital. There was often nobody around to speak with, especially in my own language. The first gift was from Ivy – she gave me a little bear and I still have it. At that moment, she was like sunshine, and she gave me hope. I knew, “I’m not alone. I have someone to talk to.” We started chatting and became very good friends.

A table full of presents and toys for kids and families at the hospital, with Chinese Gold Ribbon Society team members surrounding the table and pointing to the pile of gifts.
The Chinese Gold Ribbon Society provides gifts to kids and families in the hospital

Other challenges


Jennifer: I am a single mom and I couldn’t work at all during my daughter’s treatment. This caused a lot of financial stress.

Dana: Transportation can also be difficult. I remember one time Ivy drove someone’s daughter to the hospital at night time, because the parent couldn’t drive. For Asian parents, we’re also craving our food when we’re in the hospital. Luckily, WCK stocks Asian meals in the freezer. Did we mention, the Butter Chicken is top notch!

Our philosophy


Our tagline is “Be together.”


We want to be there for families during their treatments. Even when the kid’s off treatment, or if they pass away, we want to be there for the family. When we are there, for example to deliver a gift, we see them. We feel their emotion. 


Feeling supported and cared for makes parents feel happy, and that’s why we want to be together with them.

What we do


Throughout the year, on important occasions, we deliver gifts to families. This includes Christmas, children’s birthdays, New Year, Chinese New Year, Thanksgiving, and other special days. 


We find that young kids are so attached to their toys, so we provide special presents they can keep! We ask the parent what the child likes and finds the best toy for them. If we can’t find the right toy from our stock, we go out and buy one for them.

A child in their hospital bed, surrounded by presents from the Chinese Gold Ribbon Society of Canada. The child's face is covered by a graphic of a heart that says "love."

When we give gift cards, toys, or other presents, it’s not a lot for us, but it means a lot to them. That’s why we keep going as a society. 


We also engage in community events and fundraising activities to raise awareness of our society. We plan events that both children with cancer and their parents can participate in together.

A montage of photos of kid volunteers arranged into a heart shape

The impact


The families we meet feel very touched and supported. They feel relieved after they have talked with us. We can see that peer to peer support makes a difference.

We’re also involving the wider Chinese community, who is very passionate and supportive. They donate so many toys and gift cards to us. We post on social media and they share it with friends. Sometimes we invite student volunteers to attend events. Families like their children to learn, so their children volunteer with us and then we invite the whole family to the Gold Ribbon WeChat group, which is now about 300 people. We are building a loving community together.

Our hope


We hope to help more oncology and hematology families. We want to bring care and hope to them, and help them to feel supported and warm.


We are filled with heartfelt determination to reach out and support even more families in need. Having walked a similar path, we understand the profound challenges of this journey. We want to unite valuable resources and join hands with compassionate souls so that oncology and hematology families find solace in our support, and never feel alone in their struggle.

A delivery of gifts to families at Ronald McDonald House. One society member is standing at the entrance with a couple of boxes labeled "Chinese Gold Ribbon Society of Canada." They are wearing a face mask.
A delivery of gifts to families at Ronald McDonald House

find out more

Learn more about Ivy, Dana, Jennifer, and their team on their website.