On Sunday, November 8, area families touched by childhood cancer were invited to reunite at the Children’s Oncology Homecoming at the Chattanooga Zoo. Because Children’s Hospital at Erlanger treats more than 90% of the area’s children with cancer, this meant a BIG reunion!
Hundreds of families joined together to celebrate survivors and current patients — and to honor the friends we’ve lost. Children and families were able to reconnect with each other, the physicians, and the medical associates that cared for them through their journey.
The event kicked off with free zoo admission for all, as well as lunch and a host of other activities — including carousel and train rides. There was even an opportunity for an animal encounter when zoo staff brought out a chinchilla for the kids to meet.
Everyone in attendance received gold T-shirts with a message on the back to fill in: “I believe in ________.” Some answered “God,” some answered “miracles,” and some answered with the names of the children fighting for survival and the souls in heaven that still provide daily inspiration. Patients past and present also were invited to sign a photo mat that will later be displayed in Children’s Hospital – leaving messages of encouragement and strength for all to see.
“My heart is so full,” said Ashley Zani, Child Life Specialist at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger. “I was able to see two kids walk into the zoo that were unable to walk due to chemo, radiation, and surgery. Kids were running that were once too weak to walk. There were children that were diagnosed at six months and are now school-aged and doing well, and patients who now have husbands/wives and kids of their own.”
“Bald kids actively taking chemo smiling and having a good time, and families so thankful that we have Children’s Hospital at Erlanger right here,” Zani continued. “They didn’t have to move away to get amazing treatment!”
To learn more about our Child Life Specialists, the Children’s Hospital Foundation, and how you can make a difference in our patient’s lives, please visit www.erlangerfoundations.org.