This spring, 15-year-old Delaney Goodner is going to her second prom. While prom is everything to some teens, for this young woman, it’s a gift she treasures, a break from the medicines and treatment she endures thanks to her cancer diagnosis.
For the last six years, therapeutic child life specialist Tommi McHugh has been coordinating a prom in conjunction with the Teen and Young Adults (TaYA) group at the Children’s Hospital of Denver for the past six years. For the guests, guys ‘n’ girls ages 13 and up who battle cancer and blood disorders, it’s the opportunity to be normal for a night.
It’s not unusual for the hospital’s younger patients to miss out on typical teen activities because they don’t feel well enough. Half a dozen years ago, Tommi heard that one patient was going to miss his prom because of his illness. She wasn’t about to let that happen. With parents lending a helping hand, Tommi put together a small prom in only two weeks.
That year, only ten kids attended, wearing whatever made them feel comfortable, but they had a blast. The following year, Tommi was determined to make it bigger and better. When local businesses heard about what she was doing, they began sponsoring the decorations, food, transportation, venue, even the girls’ hair and nail appointments.
“You get to dress up and have a good time,” Delaney says. “It gives you a moment to take your mind off the fact that you’ve got cancer,” says Delaney.
Last year was Delaney’s first as a prom guest. She and a friend got their make-up, nails and hair done in a luxe hotel suite before donning gowns funded by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Though she didn’t dance much, she remembers the delish food and the totally fab door prizes.
This year, the kids are drafting letters to celebrities that they would love to attend. Among the list are Ellen DeGeneres and Justin Bieber. Delaney would like to boogie with Taylor Swift. “I really like her,” she says.
The annual prom has become a bonding experience for the hospital’s patients, Tommi explains. They aren’t wallflowers any more. They mingle in the halls. One year, a young girl whose treatment left her bald triumphantly removed her wig and danced the night away. “It’s so moving,” says Tommi.
“You can’t help but want to make it better every year,” she adds. “[The Prom] inspires them to remember there is life after and during cancer (and other blood disorders) and they can get out there and do the stuff they love.”
Want to make a difference? Call up a local hospital and ask if they’re planning any events for which they need volunteers. Go for it, girls!
Pictured above: Top – Delaney at prom with her friend Rosie. Bottom – Delaney having her nails done before the dance.