It’s one of the most joyous days at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — the last day of chemotherapy.
It’s a party — a “No More Chemo” party, with cheering and confetti and hospital staff gathering to sing …
Our patients have the cutest S-M-I-L-E
Our patients have the sweetest H-E-A-R-T
Oh, we love to see you every day,
but now’s the time we get to say
'Pack up your bags,
get out the door,
you don’t get chemo anymore!'
But that would just be the beginning of the celebration for 4-year-old Isabella, treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) at St. Jude.
Families from Holy Rosary Catholic School, where Isabella’s older siblings Kenneth and Mia are students, were planning a big bash for the family from more than 2,000 miles away, the family with whom they’ve come so close.
“We had this whole party imagined in our heads,” said Savannah Grow, whose daughter Addison is a second-grade classmate of Mia. “We were going to have a big celebration, meet her at the hospital, and then go back to one of our houses for a big party.”
Everybody would be in matching T-shirts, with a design from Savannah’s sister.
And then COVID-19 came and everything changed.
Schools are closed. Some cities are all but shut down. And what events aren’t canceled are being altered in ways previously unimagined — did you hear about the Chicago couple who got married by via video conference connection with their rabbi, priest, family and friends?
So the Holy Rosary bunch borrowed an idea, having seen videos of teachers around the country parading in their cars through the neighborhoods of homebound students, trying to keep that connection alive.
So they brought the party to Isabella.
A caravan of parents and kids set up outside the St. Jude campus. They stood outside their decorated vehicles, cheering and waving signs as the family drove out the campus gates and past the line of cars. Then the family parked, and Isa, on the opposite side of the street, walked past her well-wishers and said, "It’s all my friends!”
Call it love, friendship, school spirit and a little ingenuity in the time of COVID-19.
And an uplifting moment in a time of global strife.
Isa was diagnosed about the time she turned 2, in the fall of 2017.
At the time, the family hadn’t even heard of St. Jude. She’d come to think of the place as “like our heaven.”
“It’s where we go to feel safe,” Ela said, “It’s a place where everyone gives you love and tells you that everything is going to be OK. At St. Jude, you’re never alone.”
Driving through the St. Jude gates, having finished treatment, having been told, in the sweetest way possible to “pack up your bags, get out the door, you don’t get chemo anymore,” they found even more love waiting for them.
A makeshift party for trying times. A human connection when we all have to keep our distance.