They resembled a sea of gold, thousands of people in matching golden t-shirts coming together from all sides of a vast, green field. Ranging from toddlers holding their parents’ hands to young adults carrying their own children, they took cues from a director running amongst them and a photographer high on a hill to form a shape that symbolized their common bond – and drew a huge roar from the smiling, crying throng upon its completion.
A gold ribbon marking pediatric cancer survivorship, 2,500 Dana-Farber survivors strong.
The emotional moment, which unfolded under sunny skies at the Nobles and Greenough School in Dedham, Mass. on July 30, highlighted the 25th annual Jimmy Fund Clinic Summer Festival. Always a day of carnival rides, a petting zoo, police car rides, and all the swimming, cotton candy, and arts and crafts attendees can muster, the festival took on added meaning this milestone year.
“When I was having a very hard time my first year of treatment, coming to the festival was comforting,” says Giuliana Malvarosa, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 2001 at age eight. “I had never seen kids outside the clinic who were bald like me, or had port-a-caths. The festival was full of them, and it was awesome. It put our family in a good place moving forward.”
The day was so awesome, says Malvarosa, that once she completed treatment, she and her family started returning to the event as volunteers – a rite of summer that has lasted through high school and college. “We have made it our tradition to come here and give back,” she says, “because we owe everything to the Jimmy Fund Clinic.”
For families still in active treatment, the festival offers a chance to spend time with clinic friends and caregivers away from Dana-Farber.
“It’s great that she gets to see her doctors and nurses in a friendly, neutral environment without medicine or needles,” says Sherelle Holloway of her daughter Darla, who also has ALL. “You see kids in different phases of treatment, and you feel confident that they are in good hands.”
Such measures of success are pronounced many times over for attendees like Elisa Frederick, RN, PNP, a nurse practitioner in the Jimmy Fund Clinic for 20 years.
“I enjoy seeing both my active patients and those who have been off treatment for years,” says Frederick. “They come back as productive, happy individuals who went through a terrible time but are now thrilled to see us.”
This year’s summer festival sponsors included primary sponsor One Mission as well as GBL Foundation, The Gilmore Family, The Knez Family, The Mollenhauer Family, and the Zachary Tiernan & Cameron Hawkins Fund. Dunkin Donuts provided free refreshments for attendees.
The person at the center of it all – doing everything from arranging sponsors and volunteers to greeting guests to conceiving of and directing the gold ribbon formation – is Lisa Scherber, director of patient and family programs at Dana-Farber. It was Scherber who started the summer festival back in 1993, and she has led the event ever since.
“It was clinic parents who came to me and said, ‘Lisa, it would be so good if we saw families who were off treatment – it would give us hope and let us see a future,’” says Scherber. “I thought, ‘Well, let’s have a party!’ That’s how it all started.”
Now, when she sees something like the 2,500-person gold ribbon, Scherber is reminded of those insights.
“For families, the ribbon means we’re part of something stronger,” she says. “We have people right next to us, fighting along with us.”
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Communications