Kristen Kellar-Graney, M.S., Tumor Biologist and Clinical Researcher – and Special Love Pop-Up Camp Guru!
As a tumor biologist, I cannot take away the fear a parent has learning that their child has cancer. But as a Special Love volunteer, I can lend an ear, a shoulder, or a hand when they need it. And I can bring snacks; I always have snacks.
As a tumor biologist, I cannot guarantee that chemotherapy is going to work, or not have side-effects, or make their child terribly sick, or even provide a cure. But as a Special Love volunteer, I can sit and talk or play with their child when a parent needs a moment with a clinician, or to take a phone call, or a walk to clear their head.
I cannot add hours to the day and months to the year, but I can give a parent a few moments of respite. I can put a smile on a child’s face, making them forget, if even just for a moment, that they have cancer. I can turn them into super heroes and Mardi Gras mannequins, or bugs or butterflies, and together, we can create things, beautiful things filled with joy and love and color, things that bring giggles on the best and the worst days. And we can create memories together. And I can be thankful that I become a small part of their journey.
What I can do is what I do. And I will do more.
This year to date, the Special Love team has been welcomed into the lives and families of more than 80 children in our nine (and increasing) hospital clinic “pop-up camps.” Georgetown University Hospital will be added this fall. (“Hoya Saxa” for my fellow alumni here!)
Our local population of pop-up campers is being treated at Johns Hopkins, University of Maryland, and Sinai Hospitals, with about 20 patient interactions per month. I personally have the privilege of being in each of these hospitals monthly. We also spend time with children in Washington, DC, and Virginia, including Fairfax County, Richmond, and south to the Norfolk area.
The success of this program has been overwhelming and enables us to invite more friends and colleagues to join us in our mission. If you’re interested in volunteering with Special Love at one of the hospitals, or volunteering or sponsoring Children’s Cancer Awareness Month in September (we’re hosting a special event in Fells Point on September 15), or at any of the weekend or weeklong camps for our patients, their siblings, and their families, please reach out to Special Love.
I guarantee that after your first encounter with these wonderful children and their families, you will realize the power of what you can do.