For 24 years this marvelous event has touched the lives of patients, past and present, from Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital’s hematology and oncology programs.
The annual pediatric hematology-oncology picnic reunion, hosted each year in late July, is a favorite among patients. Visitors come from far and wide to reconnect each year with families on similar journeys.
The picnic originated with the thought that these kids needed a break from the hospital and clinic to do something fun with family and friends. Something completely separate from their treatment, but something that could bring them all together as one big family.
From this warm sentiment, the annual reunion picnic emerged. Patients in the hematology and oncology division are bound together by conditions that affect their own children, or those of family and friends—cancer and serious blood disorders.
Everyone in attendance shared this bond.
Guests walked up to games and activities lining the green grassy park, with arts and craft activities as far as the eye could see. Looking off to the pavilion, they heard a DJ playing entertaining music next to a cotton candy machine producing sugary delights for the line of kids awaiting their turn.
Children, their family members, and their health care teams chowed down on hamburgers, brats, hot dogs, baked beans, macaroni and cheese and potato salad. Picnic tables lined the entire exterior of the park as friends and family congregated and shared memories.
Colleen Thompson, event organizer and P.O.R.T. (pediatric oncology resource team) program coordinator, said little ones ask about the picnic every year and always look forward to the event.
“It’s definitely a family reunion of sorts,” she shared at this year’s soiree. “Even families whose children didn’t make it come back year after year, and bring their remaining children to celebrate positive memories of lost family members despite the outcomes. And that’s pretty remarkable.”
This year’s theme was a Baseball Spectacular, with all activities and food mirroring the feeling of a good old-fashioned baseball game.
Event organizers are creative, and shared that they have not had one repeat of a theme in the event’s 24 years. Past favorites include Harry Potter, superheroes, Monsters Inc., Christmas in July, a Hawaii luau, country/western, a Big Top Circus, and zoo-themed events.
“We see children and adults of all ages enjoying the picnic every year,” said James Fahner, MD, division chief for hematology and oncology at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “It warms my heart to run into a past patient from 20 or more years ago who is doing great in adult life. Our team has touched so many families over the years, and we consider them all a part of our own family at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.”
Katie Baron and Rabecca Wachter have children in the hematology blood clinic, and met each other during clinic visits. They have become very close friends, and attribute that bond to their children’s similar conditions and time they have spent together in the children’s hospital.
“We have been coming to this event for years and have become quite close,” Baron said as she looked over the event from her picnic table vantage point. “This year is the first time our entire families attended together and were able to meet.”