Long stints in hospital are an inescapable reality for anyone diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer.
For children, the painful and at times frightening battle through treatment is compounded by the isolation of the hospital ward, away from classrooms and playgrounds, friends and family.
Enter, Warrior Mail.
The project, spawned from Perth charity Communified, has since 2015 brightened the days of local children fighting illness in hospital, delivering thousands of letters and cards with messages of support and encouragement from across the world.
Every month a child is chosen from nominations to receive a cache of “Warrior Mail”, with well-wishers and letter-writers given an overview of the recipient’s interests and hobbies so the deliveries are truly personalised.
And it’s not just cards and letters; colouring-in books and creative projects from school groups and community organisations are also among the packages of support that flow in to encourage the young patients to stay positive during their hospital stay.
On Friday it was Perth girl Tess Egginton’s turn to get her delivery of Warrior Mail.
Tess was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia just days before her 12th birthday and is currently not far off being able to leave Perth Children’s Hospital, where she has been undergoing rounds of chemotherapy and transplants as part of her treatment.
Delivered to her ward by Communified founder and chairwoman Rhiannon Williams, Tess’ mail was full of brightly coloured letters and cards packed with messages of encouragement, drawings and stickers, urging the young girl to push on and stay strong in her fight against the blood cancer.
It was also full of textiles, custom-made carry bags, and colouring materials for the creative student, who had expressed a love of crafts.
Tess’ mum Stephanie could not believe the volume of mail, with boxes and packages containing colouring-in books, sketch pads and reams of bright stickers and sequins.
“We thought we’d just get a big pile of letters,” Ms Egginton said.
“Then when you get all these big parcels ... the generosity of other people, it’s quite touching.”
Packages had been sent to Perth from across the country and overseas; Ms Williams said some Warrior Mail deliveries had even come from as far afield from London in the past.
For Ms Williams, the drive to set up Warrior Mail came from her own very personal experience with children in hospital — only days before his first birthday, her son was diagnosed with cancer.
She remembers the stress of going to hospital, of suddenly facing an unexpected challenge, but amongst all of that, she remembers a card left on her son’s bed when he was first admitted to the oncology ward.
It contained a short but simple message from a well-wisher Ms Williams hadn’t even met before — if she wanted any help with cleaning, gardening, cooking, she was urged to just call.
“Just that one little card, such a beautiful gesture, I kept it and I’ve still got it at home even though we’re nearly six years out from treatment now,” she said.
“It was so touching that somebody would reach out to a complete stranger and offer their support. So when Ryan went into remission I was trying to think of something that I could do to support the families that were still going through treatment.”
Social media provided a platform for parents whose children were going through cancer treatment to talk and discuss their journey, so when Ms Williams saw requests for supportive messages and letters for children in America, she had an idea.
Soon, the concept for Warrior Mail was developed.
It’s amazing to see how much effort people put into creating something for the kids.Rhiannon Williams
Key among her concerns was the privacy of the families involved, hence the idea for Warrior Mail to collect and deliver the packages.
Each month, the team screens the deliveries to make sure they’re appropriate for the intended recipients, before packing them all into a basket and hauling them off to the hospital.
Ms Williams said the volume of Warrior Mail that came through was always a surprise.
“We only ask for people to write a letter or send a card, and we get huge packages and all sorts of custom-made handmade things that are tailored specifically for that child and their interests,” she said.
“It’s amazing to see how much effort people put into creating something for the kids.”
And the reactions on the children’s faces as they opened their letters and packages of support made the whole endeavour worthwhile.
“I just love it, it’s really special and such a simple way to be able to brighten their day, give them a bit of love and show them that people out there care about them and are thinking about them as they’re going through their treatment,” Ms Williams said.
“It’s amazing to see so much mail coming in every month.”
Ms Williams would like to see Warrior Mail grow in the future, provided there was enough support coming in for the children nominated each month.
But for the time being she continues to collect and deliver the messages of support and encouragement, doing what she can to bring together people from across the world with one simple goal: to brighten the day of a sick young child when they need it the most.