The spirit of survival

Tailgate helps young cancer patients take their minds off medicine
Sunday, September 21, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:40 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Young cancer survivors and their families cheered from their reserved seats near the end zone as cannons fired in celebration of MU’s first touchdown. On Saturday, these children didn’t worry about fighting disease. Their concern was another type of battle: MU vs. Middle Tennessee State University.

Before the game, families convened outside the Veteran’s Administration Hospital to attend the third annual Childhood Cancer Awareness MU tailgate party. The barbeque and other activities were organized by Children’s Hospital to recognize Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

LeAnn Reeder and Laura Wright, officials with the Child Life department at University of Missouri Health Care, have organized the party for the past three years, working in conjunction with Optioncare and other sponsors.

Optioncare, a company that offers home therapy for cancer patients, provided T-shirts and football tickets and organized the food at the event.

“The MU athletic department gave us 100 free tickets for this event and another 100 tickets at half-price,” said Vicki Billups-Oberkrom, account manager at Optioncare.

More than 190 people attended the free event, most of them from mid-Missouri.

The Wheeler family, however, traveled two hours from Lancaster to partake in the festivities. Gold ribbons on their T-shirts glinted in the bright sunlight as they sampled the various activities the party offered. The ribbons symbolize “the precious nature of children and the golden flame of hope that burns brightly for childhood cancer patients,” according to the National Childhood Cancer Foundation.

Jacquelyn Wheeler, 11, has been coming to the MU hospital since 1995 to receive treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia.

She was one of the many children who waited in line for face painting. Black tiger whiskers streaked across her cheeks and a black dot covered her little nose. Other popular designs included yellow and black tiger paws and the letters “MU.”

Nearby, a volunteer spun cotton candy around paper funnels and children practiced throwing footballs by aiming them into a large net. Dr. John Berkenbosch said his three children particularly enjoyed the football toss.

Berkenbosch appreciated the opportunity to socialize with young cancer survivors and their parents in a relaxed environment. As director of the sedation service at Children’s Hospital, he prepares children for procedures such as bone marrow biopsies and spinal taps.

“Kids often associate seeing me with knowing that they are going to get some sort of painful procedure,” he said. “It’s nice not to have that kind of association here.”

Jacquelyn’s mother, Teresa Wheeler, was impressed with the event. “They did a really outstanding job. It was well organized and everyone was treated really well. We get to see kids we haven’t seen in a while — it’s neat to see them in a healthy environment. And it’s nice to have a positive thing to feel connected about instead of just negative things,” she said.

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