Chemo is hard, but it's harder when you're a kid. Here's how one hospital is boosting morale.
It all starts with finding a happy place.
Battling cancer can be overwhelming, but it can be even harder for young kids with cancer.
But the children and teens at the Aflac Cancer Center of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta have a not-so-secret trick to get through the toughest moments: It's called guided imagery, and it's a technique used to help calm people in stressful times.
The staff often asks the kids to imagine their "happy places" as a way to give them a morale boost and a pleasant distraction when they get scared during their cancer treatments or don't understand what's happening to them and why.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and the staff at CHOA's Aflac Cancer Center wanted to do something special for their patients.
So they brought in an animator to help bring their young patients' happy places to life.
These kids are going through an unimaginably difficult time in their lives, but when they need to get away, these are the places they dream of escaping to:
1. Lauren's land of sparkles helps the 11-year-old through her recovery.
Lauren spent years of her young life fighting off a brain tumor. During her treatments, Lauren would go to her happy place, where "everything is sparkly."
It's a land of pink, purple, and blue, covered in flowers. There are puppies, fairies, unicorns with soft horns (so they don't hurt the puppies, obviously), strawberries, Barbies, and best of all, her therapy dog, Hope.
2. 11-year-old Mya escapes to the sunny beaches of Rio.
Mya was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, earlier this year. She underwent chemotherapy, but eventually lost the lower part of her left leg when it was amputated. She fights on with the help of her happy place.
Mya's happy place is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In her happy place, she doesn't need crutches or her wheelchair. Instead, she's free to enjoy the sun and feel the ocean's salty breeze. Surrounded by soccer and multi-colored toucans, Mya's happiness is a beach-themed paradise.
3. 13-year-old Hunter's land of magic is a welcome break from his everyday stress.
Diagnosed with brain cancer last year, Hunter's gone through much more than most other boys his age. He's endured rounds of chemotherapy, surgeries, and radiation; but he's still here, being as brave as can be. His happy place is like nothing you'd see anywhere on earth.
There's a walrus (who also happens to be a wizard), there are flying pandas, and flying dolphins to ride. The pandas float as high as clouds, and the people of the land live in perfect happiness. It's a carefree land where he doesn't need to feel afraid. It's his happy place, and it's wonderful.
4. Justice's Italian castle keeps the 16-year-old in the game.
In 2013, Justice was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It wasn't fair, and she knew it. Knowing that makes her afraid and angry, but her happy place brings some joy back into her life.
Her happy place is a picnic located outside an Italian castle. There's a crisp smell of autumn in the air, and the sun shines down on her. Her basket is filled with pastas, cheeses, breads, and pastries. She's surrounded by tall, beautiful trees with colorful leaves; animals scurry around her, hoping for some dropped crumbs or a loose roll of bread. She doesn't need to feel afraid; she doesn't need to feel angry.
Seeing their happy places brought to life was met with exactly the reaction CHOA hoped: joy.
Just look how happy Justice was to see her happy place brought to life:
There are few things as powerful as the imagination of a child. And to see that energy put to use by bringing these young patients happiness in the midst of such hardship is truly heartwarming.