Meredith Cole’s 8-year-old daughter had finished her oncology outpatient appointment. But instead of making her usual beeline for the elevator to leave “the ouchy place,” Adelaide was dancing.
On this June morning, the Oncology Outpatient Clinic on the third floor of CHOP’s Buerger Center for Advanced Pediatric Care located on the Raymond G. Perelman Campus was brimming with fun activities. An artist was drawing caricatures of patients, including Amelia, about to turn 7 and portrayed holding a birthday cake. In a photo booth, kids picked out accessories such as sunglasses and hats before getting their pictures snapped. Nearly all of the several dozen kids on the floor had their faces or arms brightly painted.
This was the scene at the 14th annual Fun Fest hosted by Michael’s Way, a Philadelphia-area nonprofit that aims to improve the lives of children with cancer and to support parents struggling under the financial strain that often comes with such a diagnosis. Christopher McElwee founded the organization in 2002 in memory of his brother, Michael, who lost his battle with leukemia at the age of 25.
When initially thinking about how to make a difference, McElwee’s first impulse was to raise money for leukemia research. Then he met a man whose son was diagnosed with cancer. “He was losing his house,” McElwee explains. “I saw the need for a fund that helps people with their nonmedical bills.” Michael’s Way reimburses expenses such as mortgage, utilities, child care and transportation for families with children being treated at CHOP’s Cancer Center and other hospitals. Applications are made through the child’s social worker.
And once a year Michael’s Way brings a Fun Fest to an area pediatric cancer center. This year’s CHOP Fest-goers included 5-year-old Zaaheem, who had his face painted like Batman, he said, “Because Batman is tough!” Little Zaaheem looked very serious. Then the real (sort of) Batman walked out of the elevator, accompanied by the real (sort of) Superwoman, and Zaaheem’s face lit up with astonishment and joy.