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The Daily Tar Heel

Students provide support for pediatric cancer patients at Lineberger's

	Courtney Cannon poses with her ‘pal’ Jordan Greiner in her hospital room. 

	Photo courtesy of Emily Senger.

Courtney Cannon poses with her ‘pal’ Jordan Greiner in her hospital room.

Photo courtesy of Emily Senger.

Carolina Pediatric Attention Love and Support works to foster meaningful relationships between student volunteers and pediatric patients at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center through one-on-one pairs. 

“CPALS is a student-run service organization that seeks to create trusting bonds with cancer patients at the UNC hospital,” CPALS President Liz Earley said. 

There are currently 200 members in CPALS, 78 of whom are paired one-on-one with a patient in the pediatric hematology and oncology department. All interested children, from ages 1 to 19, are paired with a student volunteer pal. 

Earley has had three pals during her time with the club and said being a part of the organization is the most meaningful thing she has done at UNC. 

“We try to relieve the stress of living in the hospital,” Earley said. “Us going every day gives the kids something for them to look forward to.”

Being a pal for a hospitalized patient demands commitment – volunteers often visit their pal every day. Volunteers attend clinical appointments with their pals, spend time with various activities and offer friendship in the way of being a positive presence. 

Earley said the majority of club members are pre-health students, but that anyone with an interest in working with children can apply. 

Meghan Fox, student adviser for CPALS, said one of the best parts of her role is seeing volunteers make connections with their pals and then transition into health care professions such as child life specialists and doctors. 

Volunteers must be compassionate, kind and dedicated, Earley said. Before being matched with a pal, volunteers must work once a week for a full semester with the clinic in the Outpatient Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Clinic.  

“The world of cancer can be emotionally difficult – working in the clinic first helps members get their feet wet before diving in with CPALS,” Earley said. 

CPALS fundraising coach Gabriela De Jesus said that, although working with cancer patients can be stressful, spending time with children who are undergoing the largest battles of their lives puts her own concerns into perspective. 

De Jesus helps coordinate events to fund scholarships for patients graduating high school. Fundraising events include membership bonding activities like a 'Cheerwine and Design' night and the 'Pedal For Peds' bike race hosted each fall. CPALS’s next fundraiser will be a benefit night at Chipotle on Feb. 25. 

In fall 2018, De Jesus helped five pals and their families attend a UNC football game, which included access to the Chancellor’s suite and time on the field. 

“It was a really fun thing to bring these kids a little bit of happiness outside the hospital,” De Jesus said. 

First-year Fahad Shah said he is enjoying his experience being paired with a boy his age. He said being a pal has allowed him to see all of the details of hospital life that not many volunteer positions offer. 

On top of hanging out with his pal and trying to raise his spirits, Shah said he talks to his pal whenever he is just having a rough day – a symptom that is better fixed by friendship than by medical staff. 

Riana Schleicher, secretary of CPALS, said she joined to gain hands-on experience working with patients in order to make a meaningful difference. 

“Volunteering with CPALs offers a breath of fresh air for patients who are going through an unspeakably hard time,” Schleicher said. “Maintaining a friendship can make or break their mental and emotional state. It’s important for kids to have fun and get to be kids.”

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