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Children’s hospital celebrates New Year’s Eve with patients

Sun., Jan. 1, 2012

Madeline Cumbie and her family have a special reason to celebrate the New Year.

In June 2012, Madeline, 4, will finish cancer treatment. She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in April 2010.

“I think that’s why this New Year’s is such a big deal to us, because 2012 is the year we’ll finally be done with this,” said her mother, Jenny Cumbie, whose other daughter Anna, 7, also battled leukemia. “We’re all excited. We didn’t even have a year off treatment from when Anna finished and Madeline started.”

But while the family’s celebration is uncommon, they rang in the new year like thousands of others Saturday – by taking in First Night Spokane, albeit at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital rather than downtown.

Because many of the kids at the hospital have weakened immune systems, they cannot be in large crowds, so organizers brought First Night Spokane to them.

“It’s not all about the pokes and the owies,” said Nettie Welshons, family support services coordinator. “We try to do our best to make it fun.”

“There’s just such a large patient population that can’t be out in the general public,” Welshons said. “It gives them something to do.”

They did all the same crafts as the children downtown got to do and saw all the same performances via a live video feed. They colored triceratops hats, made and raced dinosaurs on wheels, got their faces painted and gobbled up pizza.

“Basically, it’s like a safe environment for our kids to participate in the event without being in with the crowds and germs,” Jenny Cumbie said. “It’s a fun way to celebrate without putting our children at risk.”

Her daughter, Madeline, face painted like an orange cat, proudly displayed each of the items she made.

“Here’s my little dinosaur,” she said, wheeling it back and forth. “He’s on a skateboard. RAR!”

For many of the kids and their parents, it was a welcome reprieve from the pokes and prods, seemingly unending exams and grueling medical treatments.

“It’s a really positive environment,” Jenny Cumbie said. “It’s not what people would envision.”

Still, she’s excited her daughter won’t have to go for chemotherapy treatment come April.

“Having kids is exhausting,” she said. “Having kids with cancer is indescribable. And you never stop worrying.”

She said the family is most excited for “just basically getting dirty” when Madeline is finished with chemo this year.

“Oh my gosh, camping,” she said. “Neither one of them have ever been. Normal childhood things, like going out and making mud pies, playing in the garden, digging for worms.”

The party is a gift for parents too, Jenny Cumbie said.

“We get to network with other parents and talk about how our kids are doing,” she said. “It’s sort of like an informal support group. And, of course, the children know each other from the hospital so they have friends to play with,” she said.

“It was the first family night out we’ve had in I don’t know how long.”

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