For cancer patients, the end of a chemotherapy cycle is cause for relief. When that moment came on Jan. 2 for 5-year-old Madison Sproles, it was an even bigger deal.
“Is this a big day?” a technician asked when Madison entered the treatment room at the St. Jude Affiliate Clinic.
“Yeah!” she said, grinning broadly.
“What is it?”
“It’s my party!”
For the past year and a half, area law enforcement, a church and medical staff have teamed up to turn the end of chemotherapy into a celebration for children being treated at the St. Jude Affiliate Clinic, located in the office complex attached to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. There are about two “No Mo’ Chemo” parties a month, said Morgan Covington, child life specialist at the clinic.
The “No Mo’ Chemo” events feature much of what would be expected at a birthday party — sweets; presents appropriate for the child’s age and gender; and streamers and stars hanging from the ceiling of the waiting room, which in Madison’s case was jammed with family members.
“It’s an amazing place,” said Madison’s mother, Kayla Sproles. “They’re the best.”
State Police troopers bring cake. On this day, it was an array of cupcakes arranged in a rectangle and covered in thick icing decorated with cartoon characters. How many troopers are involved depends on whether they are tied up at work, Trooper Jared Sandifer said.
“A lot of times people will come on their days off,” Sandifer said.
“We just enjoy being able to do this, come out and see smiles on the kids’ faces,” said Trooper Michael Talley, who also has attended a handful of the parties. “It’s a big thing for these kids.”
The Hope Cancer Ministry at Healing Place Church provides six or seven gifts to each child at the party, and assists the families throughout their battle with the disease, said Healing Place volunteer Pat Trammell. The ministry was begun by Maurine Lacour 2½ years ago and has about 140 volunteers who provide fresh produce to families with cancer patients, holiday meals to such families and other support.
“All of us feel led and want to give back, and this is where our heart is,” said volunteer Sandy Tucker.
The Sproles, who live in the Pointe Coupee Parish community of Glynn, learned that Madison had neurofibromatosis when she was 1 year old. NF can cause growth of noncancerous tumors on nerve tissue. When she turned 4, tumors were discovered growing on Madison’s optic nerves, and Children’s Hospital of New Orleans referred her to the St. Jude Affiliate Clinic. That is unusual, Covington said: Most of the clinic’s patients are referred from the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
The tumors threaten her sight but not her life, said her father, Johnathon Sproles.
Madison received chemotherapy treatments to arrest the tumors’ growth, Kayla Sproles said. Radiation, which could kill the tumors, is being delayed until she is older to avoid affecting Madison’s brain development, Kayla Sproles said.
The patient seemed oblivious to such weighty matters at the party, which began with clinic staff, the troopers and Healing Place volunteers singing the “No Mo’ Chemo” song to the tune of the old Oscar Meyer weiner jingle.
Our patients have the cutest S-M-I-L-E’s.
Our patients have the sweetest H-E-A-R-T’s.
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 need chemo anymore!
With that, the singers tossed small, shiny, star-shaped confetti over Madison while family and friends applauded.
It’s not the last time Madison will visit the clinic, but her checkups will be much less frequent than the chemo treatments.
“It’s very bittersweet, because after you’ve been coming here for so long, they become your family, too,” Kayla Sproles said. “Not to come every week or every other week is going to be a big change.”
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