For kids with cancer or a blood disorder, visiting their doctor usually means tests, treatments, pokes and medication.
But as the hematology-oncology picnic unfolded, the only medicine in sight was laughter. And fun. And games.
The 26th annual event brought together patients, families and medical staff from Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital to enjoy a summer day.
“It’s something we always look forward to,” said James Fahner, MD, the division chief of pediatric hematology and oncology. “We have so few opportunities to really have quality time with our patients outside of the clinical setting, and we appreciate the chance to do that.”
The party, billed as a Holiday Extravaganza, celebrated a year’s worth of festivities. Participants gathered at Douglas Walker Park in Byron Township, Michigan, wearing their holiday best―for any and all holidays.
They ran a Thanksgiving turkey-trot obstacle course and a Halloween monster relay run. They created crafts celebrating Valentine’s Day, the Fourth of July and Christmas.
The picnic draws patients who still are in treatment as well as some who finished treatment years ago, said Colleen Thompson, the coordinator for the Pediatric Oncology Resource Team, the volunteer-based group that puts on the picnic.
“Some families come who have lost children,” she said. “They like to see staff because those are people who were there during their worst times.”
Attendance varies every year, but the annual picnic typically draws 500-700 people. It is a summer tradition for many families whose children were treated by the hematology-oncology program, Dr. Fahner said.
He especially enjoys seeing his patients having fun with their siblings.
“Many times we don’t get to see siblings because we are so focused on the ill child,” he said. “To have that child enjoy a wonderful, carefree afternoon as part of the whole family unit is just wonderful.”
The picnic also buoys the spirits of parents of kids in active treatment.
“Seeing boys and girls who have been on similar journeys―and have come through it all healthy and well―is inspirational to them,” Dr. Fahner said.
Many of the doctors, nurses and therapists who attend bring their families to join the fun. The event energizes and inspires the staff, as well.
“To see kids being kids―that’s always so great,” Dr. Fahner said.
“We feel privileged that we are invited into the lives of our families. It’s an extended family that they never would have chosen to join. But because they are under our care for such long periods of time, we get to be very close to them and their families.”