By Molly Williamson
For the 15 to 29 year old demographic, cancer packs an additional punch. Though they are treated at a children’s hospital, they no longer are children. In addition to their diagnosis, they are juggling school, applying for college, dating, getting married, having children and other important life events.
Many children’s hospitals are not equipped with the programs and resources to deal with the psycho-social demands of this age group, but thanks to the DanceBlue organization and a recent gift from Hyundai Hope on Wheels, the DanceBlue Hematology/Oncology Clinic at Kentucky Children’s Hospital is addressing these needs.
In June, the University of Kentucky received a $100,000 Hyundai Hope on Wheels Impact Grant. DanceBlue students Tyler Ward, the 2019 overall chair, and Riley Grant, the 2019 corporate chair, discovered the funding opportunity and worked with local dealerships, John D’Orazio, chief of the division of pediatric hematology and oncology, and UK Philanthropy to apply for the grant, which will allow the hospital to implement three programs, starting with revamping three clinic rooms to make them friendlier to the adolescent/young adult population.
With support from the Hyundai Hope on Wheels grant, the UK Pediatric Oncology DanceBlue clinic staff has redecorated the once-spartan rooms with themes that are more appealing to adolescents and young adults, including sports and music, D'Orazio said. Comfortable seating will be added for children, life partners and friends who accompany the patient and desks will be present so that adolescents and young adults have a comfortable place to sit while filling out financial aid paperwork, applications for colleges or other documents.
“We wanted to make them more aesthetically appropriate for the adolescent and young adult demographic and make these patients feel more special,” D’Orazio said. “We also wanted to make our clinic space more functional. Almost everyone in that age group is plugged in, so we're adding USB charging stations to the clinic rooms so that our patients always have access to their devices.”
The Hope on Wheels award will also facilitate giving patients in this age group a backpack when they are diagnosed. This program, which will go live in 2020, will involve giving each new adolescent and young adult cancer patient a nice backpack filled with items to make the cancer journey a bit easier, such as a notebook, water bottle, coloring book and colored pencils, lip balm, parking pass and other useful items like gas cards to help the patients throughout their treatment.
“It is just a way to say, ‘Hey! Life gave you a rough deal, but here is something to make it a little easier,’” D’Orazio said.
Lastly, the grant will fund a wellness series that offers information about issues unique to the adolescent and young adult demographic, including coping with stress, healthy living, healthy diet and other ways to live a healthy life, D’Orazio said. Ideally, the series will be for the patient and a guest and will involve dinner and an evening wellness program every three or four months.
The DanceBlue clinic staff is still working out the details for the Impact Grant programming, but D’Orazio said he is confident the programs will exceed his expectations.
“We have a lot of creative people here who are committed to making the treatment process as comfortable and easy as possible,” D’Orazio said. “These programs will make adolescents and young adults feel they are in a special place where people care about them and have given a lot of thought to their unique needs.”
Created to help organizations fight pediatric cancer, Hyundai Hope on Wheels awards more than $16 million each year. Since 1998, Hyundai dealers have contributed more than $160 million to the foundation and have helped fund research, treatment options and innovative programs like Kentucky Children Hospital’s adolescent and youth oncology backpack and wellness program.
In 2019, Hyundai Hope on Wheels awarded 75 grants, 25 of which were one-year, $100,000 Impact Grants. The locations funded were selected by Hyundai dealers.
“I think Hyundai selected Kentucky Children’s Hospital because we have already benefited from significant community philanthropy,” D’Orazio said. “DanceBlue has already made the hospital a special place to get cancer care. When you see how much the community has raised and what it has provided through DanceBlue, it is impressive. That history of support really paved the way for this Hyundai Hope on Wheels grant.”
Sally Martin, the 2020 DanceBlue overall chair, is excited to see the grant’s impact. On Tuesdays, she volunteers in the DanceBlue Clinic, where she paints, plays board games, jokes and hangs out with patients.
“They are some of the coolest kids I know,” Martin said. “Those kids fuel my passion with their laughter, love and humor and the light they shine despite fighting a battle that no child should ever have to face. If bursting into an exam room with handfuls of Play-Doh and a smile on my face means that a patient doesn't have to think about missing school or just being a normal kid, I would do it every day.
“The reason the DanceBlue Clinic is more special than other hospitals or clinics really comes down to the passion that college students show every day for kids they may never meet,” Martin said. “DanceBlue stands for more than just a dance marathon or raising money. It stands for providing hope and support to families going through the hardest battle they may ever face. There are few things in today's world that can bring people together from all backgrounds, but DanceBlue can and will until cancer is just a memory.”
The Hyundai Hope on Wheels Impact Grant furthers the goals of Kentucky Can: The 21st Century Campaign. Publicly announced in September 2018, the comprehensive campaign is focused on increasing opportunities for student success, funding innovative research, improving health care, strengthening our alumni network, and supporting our athletic programs. More than halfway to its $2.1 billion objective, Kentucky Can has made UK the University for Kentucky. It has transformed campus and increased opportunities for everyone UK serves.