Patients and families find joy at Fenway Park amidst pandemic

On a warm day in late September, in a year turned upside down by the COVID-19 global pandemic, something amazing happened for pediatric patients and families at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Jimmy Fund Clinic, proving there are always opportunities for joy amidst the challenges that have gripped cancer patients and their families this year.

Organized by the Jimmy Fund Clinic’s Patient and Family Programs team, led by Lisa Scherber, 50 pediatric patients and their families were invited to an all-day event at Boston’s beloved Fenway Park.  After months and months (and months) of cancelled in-person events, clinic staff collaborated with Dana-Farber’s Infection Control and the Boston Red Sox’s Security and Operations teams. Attendees were welcomed out onto the field to pose for professional photographs (and of course a few selfies) with backdrops many local baseball fans will only ever dream of experiencing.

“The Jimmy Fund Clinic photo day gave us something to look forward to and provided us with a safe opportunity to have fun,” shares Jillian Padilla, mother to 3-year-old pediatric patient Colette. “So much of our time has been spent at medical appointments since Colette’s diagnosis. When all is said and done with our daughter’s treatment, we will have these photos to remind us of how much we have overcome and that we were still able to have joyful moments during a very difficult time in our lives.”

Photo sessions were scheduled 20 minutes apart to maintain ample physical distancing and allowed for poses in front of two iconic backdrops: the park itself and the Green Monster.  Volunteers staffing the event consisted exclusively of nurses, nurse practitioners, and other clinic staff to ensure knowledge of safety protocols stayed as top of mind on the field as it does in the clinic. All staff wore face masks and face shields. 

“During the pandemic, the Jimmy Fund Clinic has been our safe bubble,” Jillian says. “At times we felt safer there, with other children and families, than we did being around our own friends and family. Likewise, during this special day at Fenway, we felt very protected.”

With temperature checks at the gate and health attestations by all volunteers and attendees the day before the event, patients felt comfortable removing their masks as they stepped out on the historic field. Smiling and enjoying a beautiful day together, families were able to leave all the stresses of cancer treatment and a global pandemic behind, if only briefly.

Thayer, a patient in the Jimmy Fund Clinic, happened to be celebrating his third birthday that day—and it was one to remember.

“The scoreboard was lit up with the sweetest birthday message just for Thayer,” his mom, Kara Herr, says. “We simply couldn’t have planned a better way to begin his special day.”

Like so many other patients and families, Kara and her husband have spent an inordinate amount of time since March weighing the risks of COVID-19 at every single turn. Because of the constant negotiating families have engaged in amidst the pandemic, the clinic wasn’t sure how many would accept the invitation they had sent out. But as the RSVPs began to pour in, it became clear what a tremendous need the Jimmy Fund Clinic community had for non-virtual connections in this unprecedented year. The opportunity to engage in a safe way outside of treatment with each other and with clinic staff, even if only from a safe distance, moved mountains for these patients and families. 

You can help make special moments like these possible. Make a donation to the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to help fund patient programs, cancer care, and the ongoing research that brings Dana-Farber closer to its mission to conquer cancer.