Dear Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion,
You're gonna need a new GPS because the yellow brick road led you folks to the wrong place. If you are looking for brains, hearts and courage, I have found your destination. And it's not called Oz. It's called Children's National Medical Center. What you will find there is much scarier than flying monkeys and wicked witches. More importantly, though, you will find that the people who are facing these scary things, at first glance, look quite ordinary. Quickly, you will learn that these ordinary men, women and children have extraordinary amounts of brains, heart and courage. So extraordinary that it will take your breath away.
As a new member of Kyle's Kamp, I was invited recently to take a tour of the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC. Kyle's Kamp has and will continue to raise money to fund research, medical care and family support programs at Children's.
This is the first thing I can tell you about receiving the invitation. I was honored. The second thing I can tell you is that the invitation said Attire: Business Professional. Well, that was a bit stressful since I haven't worked in an office setting in nineteen years. The last time I wore business professional attire would be an era known as Jenn Skinner: The Marilyn Quayle Years. Anyway, I figured out what to wear and we went on our way.
On the tour of Children's, I encountered the most impressive brains the Scarecrow would ever hope to find. We attended a presentation by a number of the physicians including the head of oncology, Dr. Jeffrey Dome. In my head I just refer to him as Mr. Smarty Pants. The thing is that Mr. Smarty Pants was not the least bit smug and uppity about his smarty-pantsness. He was lovely and soft-spoken and grateful that we were there. The Tin Man would have been green with envy at the extraordinary heart Dr. Dome had to match his extraordinary brain.
Next, a young doctor spoke to us about the new Program for Cell Enhancement and Technologies for Immunotherapy which involves the creation of killer T-cells to attack multiple targets simultaneously on leukemia cells. Early data suggest that this treatment might have broader application to other types of cancer, possibly including solid tumors such as neuroblastoma and brain tumors.
(Yes, my face was all scrunched up as I was trying to follow the diagrams and such during this presentation. And yes, I just plagiarized every word of that scientific jargon right off of the handout they gave me.)
Whether you understand a word of this or not, this type of research is incredibly important and as incredibly expensive. These people have the brains to make this happen. They just need the money and they again, were so very grateful to organizations like Kyle's Kamp that will help them keep using their smarty-pantsness to save our kids.
We then heard Dr. Amanda Thompson talk about the Sibling Support Program which helps support sisters and brothers of children with cancer, hematological disorders and other immunological diseases. These children often feel left out as the sick sibling becomes the focus of all attention. They are impacted in specific ways and deserve an individualized kind of support and help when dealing with the death of a brother or sister. Kyle's Kamp was particularly proud to donate a significant amount of money raised during our Inaugural Gavin Rupp Open Golf Tournament to support these special kids. Dr. Thompson was elated and so very grateful. Again, big brains, big hearts.
Next, we went on a tour of the research facility. They showed us equipment that would make George Jetson's eyes bug out of his head. There were loads and loads of Mr. and Ms. Smarty Pants People running around doing amazing, important work for children. At one point, my head was hurting from trying so hard to understand t-cells, antibodies and equipment like the High Frequency Ultrasound machine. (All the cool kids call that the HIFU, by the way. You are welcome to throw that term around at your next dinner party.)
Dr. Dome then mentioned a 3D copy machine. As it was being explained I thought to myself, "Wait a second. This is quite familiar to me. How have I heard of this? Did I accidentally pick up A New England Journal of Medicine instead of a People last time I was at the dentist office? Oh, my gosh, I am totally following this. I am getting smarter just by being here!" Then my friend, Randi, whispered that the 3D copy machine was part of a storyline on Grey's Anatomy.
Our next venture was to tour the patient care area of the hospital. This is where Dr. Christopher Lawlor, he of giant brain and giant heart, shows us where patients come each day to fight their fight. The heart of this part of the hospital is obvious. Dr. Lawlor's eyes sparkle as he asks a young patient being released if he is going to make the rounds first to say good-bye to all his girlfriends. The walls in each room are bright and cheerful. There is an art therapy room full of masterpieces made by patients and siblings. There are smiling, friendly nurses. There are loving, dedicated parents.
But this place. This is where courage lives. This is where I find my feet walking the same ground as little child soldiers and exhausted mothers and fathers who would give anything to trade places with their babies. This is where the bravery of the strongest warrior pales in comparison to the courage of nine year old fighting leukemia, a twelve year old fighting osterosarcoma or a five year old fighting neuroblastoma. This is where photos of beautiful young faces, some still fighting and some that have left us, line the hallways. This is where tiny girls roll tall IV poles down the hallway. This is where little boys wait to let one kind of poison be pumped into their bodies to fight another poison. This is where the littlest among us teach the biggest among us that it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.
Children's National Medical Center was utterly fascinating to me. The scientists, the doctors, the nurses, and the young patients are focusing their minds and their hearts on an uncertain future, a very scary foe, with immense courage. And I could've and did at times feel small and insignificant in their presence. But this is what I realized. They need us. This hospital is not at the end of the yellow brick road. It's in the midst of a city full of folks taking care of their families, rushing to work, busy with their ordinary lives. They need us ordinary people to fight alongside them. They need all of us Scarecrows, Tin Men and Lions out here who feel our brains, our hearts, and our courage do not measure up to the formidable task of curing childhood cancer. We can help them. As Glinda the Good Witch says we already have the power. The doctors, the scientists, the nurses and the children are believing in their power. And their beautiful brains, their full hearts and their phenomenal courage are making me believe it, too.
Perhaps we might be able to join in this fight today. If not you, then who?
Jennifer P. Skinner