A sea of more than 100 dressed in gold and yellow filled the lobby of Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, everyone having one connection—cancer.

Families meandered outside, formed a circle and joined hands by the children’s hospital. They hollered and screamed in joy, and celebrated together. Smiles ran deep and they started a wave around the circle, empowered by staff who joined in to support the friends and patients they consider family.

“We are joining together to celebrate each and every one of you,” said James Fahner, MD, division chief for Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at the hospital. “There are siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, playmates and friends here today … all who have been affected by cancer. The entire community joins together to stand as a team to care for these children and families, and today we extend this welcome and hug to each and every one of you.”

The second Hug the Hospital event wasn’t about the building itself, but more about the families involved in the battle.

“This is our first year doing this,” said Steve Colthorp, whose son, William, is currently undergoing treatment for a rare sarcoma. “We found out on July 4 that Will had a tumor, and he has been in treatment ever since. We’re here to hug the hospital and show the staff that we are very appreciative of the help and services they have provided.”

Will is on chemotherapy week 13 of 43. His parents said it was rough the first few weeks as his body reacted differently than anticipated. But now he’s back in school and a 3-foot monkey takes his seat when he’s away for treatment. The monkey cheats on his math, or makes a masterpiece in art class.

“Dad, did you know the monkey finished my art project for me the other day?” said Will with a laugh.

“He’s going to a soccer game after at noon,” said Will’s dad. “We’re trying to stay as active as possible and stay involved in keeping everyday life as normal as possible.”

Colleen Thompson, program coordinator for P.O.R.T, says it’s always nice to see the families coming back year after year and that it doesn’t surprise her that they have a deep connection to one another.

Eighteen-year-old Emma Dryden, interviewed by TV-13, and is on her way to becoming a local celebrity. The Zeeland teen has been in treatment for five months for Hodgkin lymphoma.

“I’m in remission now, and that’s really exciting!” she exclaimed.

Emma enjoys having a reason to come to the hospital for something other than treatment. And talk about a random coincidence—she was here for the first Hug the Hospital event, but was not in treatment. She attended to support one of her best friends who had leukemia.

“I remember being here last year and saying, ‘Boy this is a nice hospital, I wonder what it’s like to stay here?'” she recalled. “I never could have imagined that one year later I would be here in treatment myself.”