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Clad in sequined gowns and tuxes, teenage patients at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital celebrated a hallowed event of adolescence—the spring prom.
Since 2007, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has organized the St. Jude Teen and Young Adult Formal, inviting patients and their siblings, ages 13 to 19. The event offers a slice of normalcy to patients undergoing treatment for cancer and other catastrophic diseases.
For patients like Ciera Blackburn, 17, it is an opportunity to participate in prom, an event that might be otherwise missed. Ciera has been undergoing treatment for B-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma at St. Jude since last year.
“A lot of the teenage patients miss their formal and the other dances while they are receiving treatment at St. Jude,” said child life specialist Kelly Anderson. “The prom developed as a way for us to provide an opportunity for our teenagers to have something reminiscent of their normal lives while at the hospital.” Child life specialists are a part of the health care team at St. Jude, focusing on the psychosocial needs of children facing challenging health care experiences.
“This night is very important to me because I thought I'd miss my senior prom," Ciera said. "It's a great chance to have that experience and share it with the friends I've made at St. Jude who are going through the same things I am."
Prior to the formal, child life specialists coordinated a two-day event, “Dress Fest,” for girls to select their perfect prom ensemble among hundreds of dresses that had been donated. Likewise, boys were fitted with tuxedoes.
At a pre-prom pamper party, held at a St. Jude housing facility, stylists polished nails, curled hair or styled wigs and applied makeup.
As the teens prepared for the big event, hospital staff decorated an on-site venue with balloons, streamers, a photo backdrop and other prom essentials. Caterers filled champagne flutes with sparkling grape juice and a DJ set up by the dance floor.
With the stage set, patients arrived in stretch limousines and made their red-carpet entrances. Ciera and other patients were greeted with corsages and boutonnieres.
“Our goal is to incorporate special events that enable families to have those experiences that they would otherwise not have due to treatment and hospitalization,” Anderson said. “We want to provide our families with opportunities to celebrate their child and positive moments in their life.”