By Blake Rosser
As Carolina Cancer Focus uses Cancer Awareness Week to inform students of how they can join the fight against the disease, another student group is already in the trenches.
For a scared, sick and confused child, a person offering friendship and support can make all the difference in the world. This desire to create relationships is the premise behind Carolina Pediatric Attention, Love and Support, an organization that pairs a "pal" - a UNC undergraduate student volunteer - with a cancer patient in the UNC Hospitals pediatric clinic.
The program, started in 1989 by Dr. Herbert Cooper and pediatric oncology nurse Rose Dunaway, was officially recognized as a campus organization in 1998.
"It was Dr. Cooper's idea," Dunaway said. "We wanted to offer the patients a diversion from their intensive treatment and their long hours in the clinic or hospital and also give a rest to their parents. At the same time, we felt it would be a meaningful volunteer experience for students at the University."
Students are paired randomly with patients up to the age of 18. Volunteers also help plan events such as their annual spring picnic or their Miles for Smiles cycling fund-raiser. Whenever the children are receiving treatment, the pals try to visit to play games and watch movies.
Heather McDaniel, a senior biology major who plans to attend nursing school, said she values her experience as a member of P.A.L.S. "For those who want to go into a medical profession, especially pediatrics, this program shows the extreme of what that (field) has to offer," she said. "It'll definitely show you what you can and can't handle."
McDaniel's patient, 3-year-old Haley Stewart from Linden, receives out-patient treatment for a tumor on the optic nerve in her left eye. McDaniel said Haley shows courage throughout her ordeal, and she is essentially helping Haley's parents. "(Haley's) a trooper, unafraid," she said. "We try to make this emotional time better by relieving some of the pressure on the parents."
Karen Stewart, Haley's mother, said she finds the pals very helpful. "I feel like the pals take the bad out of the situation and help put the fun in."
McDaniel said she feels an additional bond to the Stewarts due to personal experience. "It's really ironic, because I had a tumor in the muscle tissue of my right eye," McDaniel said. "I wasn't originally supposed to be paired with her either - it was chance."
McDaniel acknowledged that the experience can be hard at times. "It's frustrating when you hear negative results," she said. "Any time they regress, it's hard. I've become attached to Haley."
But Dunaway said the program can turn around traumatic experiences for all the sick children involved. "In spite of the intensive treatment these patients endure, their time in the clinic is pretty upbeat."
The University Editor can be reached at email@example.com.