Historically, teenagers are the most underserved oncology population in children’s hospitals. Maddie knows this all too well, having been 14 when she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
Accustomed to being a typical teen surrounded by chatty friends, Maddie’s sudden isolation became a painful experience. She didn’t want to inconvenience her friends or family by asking them to stay with her—but her feelings of loneliness were difficult to bear. That’s when her mom suggested she give the Children’s Cancer Association’s (CCA) Chemo Pal Mentor Program a try.
“While I loved my friends and they were very supportive, I didn’t want them to drop everything to come see me,” she explained. “It was just easier with my Chemo Pal mentor, Michelle. She understood me on a different level than my friends. Having that outlet to talk to someone about normal things was important. With my treatment, a lot of relationships changed, and the Chemo Pal Mentor Program gave me the chance to make a new friend.”
Nature Provides the Outlet to Regain Independence and Connect
When CCA approached Maddie to take part in a new insight group to improve programming targeted to teens and young adults, the Young Adult Alliance (YAA), Maddie jumped at the opportunity to offer her familiarity and knowledge.
With insights from Maddie and other YAA members, the idea for NatureRx became a reality; a chance for teens and young adults to get outside to improve their self-esteem, find a sense of independence, and meet new friends who could relate to life with a serious illness.
“With NatureRx, you’re with people who totally get your situation,” she said. “Talking with each other helps process what we went through and allows for big steppingstones. For me, the best moment was kayaking for the first time again,” she said.
NatureRx is Working
Today, there have been a dozen NatureRx adventures and Maddie has taken part in all but one of them. She is proud to see how the pilot program has grown and has experienced firsthand the benefits of the nature excursions tailored for the physical differences she and many of her peers face.
“When your friends are physically healthy and fit, it can be hard to put yourself in that situation. I just don’t want them to see me struggle and have to explain why. It can be embarrassing. But with NatureRx you’re with people who totally get your situation and why you’re not always physically able to do something. During NatureRx outings, everyone sees each other struggle, and when we need help, they understand. Being surrounded by kids and teens that have gone through the same thing is a whole different community vibe.”
Living Her Best Life
Armed with new confidence, Maddie is looking forward to future NatureRx adventures and hitting big milestones in her life: moving out, getting a job, and perhaps getting another dog.
Maddie credits this confidence to the support system she found through CCA’s Joy-based programs – a new friend when she felt the loneliness and isolation of cancer treatment and newfound peer groups to boost her self-esteem and confidence through shared experience and connection.
When you donate to CCA, you create Joy-based programs that help facilitate lifelong friendships for kids of all ages in treatment and provide healing nature experiences to teens and young adults, so they don’t have to face cancer and other serious illness alone.
If you become a monthly donor today, your gift will be matched for an entire year, doubling the impact!