Just for fun and Taveon, a very special pediatric patient
Taveon Woodward, a very special boy in JourneyCare’s All About Kids pediatric program, just turned 9 and is living with rhabdoid pleuropulmonary blastoma – his third relapse since he was first diagnosed at 3 years old. At the start of this year, the doctors gave him the “all clear,” but by April they told him it was “back with a vengeance." This time, though, his only treatment option is palliative chemotherapy to treat his symptoms.
When Social Worker Jennifer Leahy Junas and I admitted Taveon, we knew his birthday was close and could be his last. We asked how he would like to celebrate this year, and he shared that he'd love to go roller skating. Oh boy! With that response my mind went a’whirling to my own childhood …
Growing up in Mundelein we had the best roller rink around, known as Hotwheels Roller Rink. I spent many weekends there from open to close, skating around and around to the best songs of the ’70s and ’80s! Almost three decades later, my dad got a job there after his retirement, telling us it was “just for fun.” You see, Dad worked for the same excavating company for 45 years as a semi-driver, so selling pizza, being silly, and handing out skates was a refreshing way to earn a little extra cash for date night with my mom.
My dad died less than two years after he retired, but he happily worked at the rink frequently with his last shift two days before we lost him at age 65. "He was too young," everyone said. Nowadays, that expression has new meaning in my life and profession.
The fond memories Taveon stirred up kept me smiling for the rest of the day, and my father’s familiar voice kept saying in my head, "Do something, honey." By the end of the day, I knew I had to help this sweet boy get his birthday wish.
I looked up the Mundelein skate rink and discovered it was under new management. Serendipitously, it had a new name: Just for Fun Roller Rink! I thought, “This can't be real!” Our team worked with the new owner, Toby, to arrange a donation for a skating party for Taveon – and boy was he generous. Without hesitation, Toby said, "I'm in" and offered a two-hour private party with skates for FREE! I almost dropped the phone and I clarified his offer twice, just in case something was seriously wrong with my hearing!
I called Jen right away and told her the good news … but we now had less than three weeks to pull off the surprise. Luckily for us, planning went smoothly – kinda like a freshly mopped roller rink floor on a Friday night! We worked as a team to secure food and drinks, to update Taveon’s grandmother and legal guardian of our surprise plans, and to arrange our schedules so we could be at the party to support the family.
This summer, Taveon got his "super awesome" skate party and I was honored to witness it. I couldn't begin to replicate the gratitude he and his family expressed for this little two-hour break from the reality of his illness.
What's truly amazing is Taveon doesn't act sick, he acts grateful. He doesn't seem tired, he seems thankful. And he doesn't look like a child living with a terminal diagnosis, he looks like a young boy just trying to have a little fun. And for a couple hours this June, I think Taveon had a guardian angel hanging out with him “just for fun.”
Learn about JourneyCare’s All About Kids pediatric program on our website.
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