Program provides cancer patients student support

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Molly Laux and Valerie King show their painted hands after contributing their handprints to a banner that says, “Together we are brave.”

Senior Molly Laux was sitting in a UNC hospital room with her most recent CPAL, a young person with cancer who she was partnered with to support and befriend throughout his treatment, when “Wagon Wheel” came on the music TV channel. He danced around while lying in bed and sang along to the song, and she sang with him.

Two days later, in September, he died, and Laux has just finished heading a video project in his memory about the Carolina Pediatric Attention, Love, and Support program, which pairs UNC students with young people undergoing treatment for cancer and blood disorders.

Laux said the group has about 90 CPAL-patient pairs and performs 1,300 hours of service each semester.

Laux, the publicity chairwoman for CPALS, said the video project was originally a way for her to get closer to her first pal, who loved music. The video goes live Wednesday on the N.C. Children’s Hospital’s YouTube channel, and she said she hopes that it showcases what the children and their families go through every day while also paying tribute to her pal.

“It was something I personally wanted to do to honor him and keep that promise that I had made him that we would do this project,” she said.

Most of the video was shot at the biannual family retreat that CPALS hosts. The theme of the retreat was superheroes, and the theme of the video is “Together We Are Brave.” The video shows patients and families running around in masks and capes, some holding photos to show how far they’ve come in their recoveries, while others as young as 2 lip-dub K’naan’s “Wavin’ Flag.”

“It’s not just how one person may be physically fighting (cancer); it is so much more than that — the entire family takes it on and the entire family is fighting it,” Laux said. “We wanted to show that we are a team here and no one is just doing it on their own.”

Laux said the point of it all was to give patients a chance to have fun, as kids should.

“There is this one little boy and he is just dancing away, and he is the cutest little thing, and that’s one of my favorite parts because I know this boy personally, and their family has been through so much already,” she said. “He just looked so happy, and I love that.”

One of Laux’s current pals, 18-year-old Valerie King, has been paired with her since January 2012. King was diagnosed Nov. 11, 2011 with Ewing’s sarcoma, but has been cancer-free since August 2012.

“Emotionally, she has been one of my biggest supporters,” King said. “Molly was there every day and that was just a special thing because I didn’t have any friends that made that time for me anymore.”

And Jessica Irven, the pediatric psychosocial support program coordinator at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and liaison between the hospital and CPALS, said the ability of UNC’s pals to stick with patients no matter what is what makes the program great.

“The theme of the retreat and the overarching theme of family-centered care is that … when a parent, a grandparent or a child is battling whatever disease, that it’s only together and through being together that we can really be brave and battle whatever everyone is facing,” she said.

Sharon Lambert is one of the parents who was present at the retreat. Her daughter, Macy Lambert, was diagnosed in August 2006 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was just 2. Lambert describes the day her daughter was diagnosed as unexplainable, but with the support at UNC, Macy is now in remission.

“Children are just amazing because when (Macy) had to go through all that she didn’t know anything different other than, ‘I’ve got to do it,’” she said. “I think a lot of times adults, when they go through things like this, they just kind of want to give up. But a child doesn’t know any different than just, keep going.”

arts@dailytarheel.com

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