Olivia and Kimberlee are kindred spirits despite being years apart in age. They love art, dancing, and share a passion for the lemonade from McMenamins. Olivia fondly thinks of Kimberlee’s son as a nephew of her own. They’ve also been through a lot together, for seven years, Kimberlee was Olivia’s Chemo Pal.
Taking the Chance on a Chemo Pal
In 2010, Olivia learned that she was born without an immune system. She spent multiple days visiting Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in Portland receiving monthly steroid treatments and chemo treatments for six months. Often her treatment allowed her to be outpatient, but complications from the lack of an immune system inhibited her day to day life.
Despite the difficulty of her situation, it’s given her the perseverance and attitude needed to try new experiences. So, when Olivia was approached to sign up for a Chemo Pal, she thought, “Why not? It would be another person on my team.”
Olivia recalls her time with Kimberlee fondly, often a source for recharging during her hectic treatment schedule.
“When I was younger, I was homeschooled. As part of my credits for PE, I would play Dance Central on Xbox 360. Kimberlee would come over and we would play for two hours. She would help me get my credits in. Then we would relax and paint each other’s nails.
We experimented with so many crafts and hobbies. She would help me with projects and homework. Kimberlee is just caring, loving, and funny. She’s like an older sister who isn’t judge-y. As long as my choices don’t harm me or other people, she’s got my back.”
Even when Olivia was too sick to dance, the two friends would spend their time together folding paper and chatting, achieving the astounding feat of folding 1,000 paper cranes.
What it Means to be a Chemo Pal Volunteer
For Kimberlee, the choice to become a Chemo Pal Mentor was something she had thought about for many years. In college, she heard about Children’s Cancer Association (CCA) over the radio and decided then and there she would make the commitment to volunteer as a mentor.
Seven years later, one of the greatest joys in her life has been watching Olivia grow into an artistic, honest, and vivacious young woman. “I learned that as a Chemo Pal, you never know what your mentee might need, so I had to figure out how to go with the flow.
We developed a bond where we could be very real with each other and I learned how to ask questions, but also sit in the silence. I learned that I needed to bring sweatpants because Olivia wanted to dance for exercise! She is so competitive, but I wouldn’t let her win. Because she was sick, people would always let her win, but I didn’t make her sickness the reason she won.”
Kimberlee recognizes her relationship with Olivia offered another layer of support not just to Olivia, but to Olivia’s family as well. “As Olivia started becoming older and she was rebelling and just being a kid, I was able to give her parents the platform to give advice in a way that would come from a friend. Olivia’s grandfather was also very sick at the time and Olivia’s mom, Jana, could walk away and do whatever else she needed to do without worrying about Olivia. And there were times Jana just needed to cry, and I was there. I had no judgment for them.”
Another Person in Your Corner
Today, Olivia and Kimberly work full-time jobs, but they text often and make sure to meet up for coffee or their favorite lemonade.
Wise in more ways than one, Olivia has sound advice for anyone considering a Chemo Pal. “It really takes a village to deal with anything we have to deal with. It never hurts to have another person in your corner and that’s what you’re gaining. Another person in your corner. That’s not just the Chemo Pals, it’s everyone at CCA, it’s warm and welcoming the second you open the door. You’re gaining an amazing person and a whole different perspective on life. We add to each other’s lives and it’s a two-way street.”
If your child could benefit from a Chemo Pal, please don’t hesitate to contact firstname.lastname@example.org with a request.