The Physician Assistant Society and Love Your Melon Club hosted Gracie Gorman and her family, from Irwin, Pa. as well as community members in McKenna Gym Nov. 18 for a carnival. The theme was Mickey Mouse because of the 2-year-old’s love for the character.
“You could say we’re similar to Make-a-Wish, but tied to LYM we give all the children and their families LYM hats in addition to the event. We get no outside funding from LYM for the events, and rely on prior SHU fundraisers,” said former Love Your Melon club president Nicole Berardinelli.
Gracie was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, a type of blood and bone marrow cancer which affects white blood cells, on Feb. 1. This was just 10 days after her grandmother passed from cancer.
“She was cancer free after five months, so she is just on her stabilizing chemo that helps make sure it doesn’t come back,” Berardinelli said. “She has another 18 months of chemo to go through so she still has a long way to go, but she has hit that permission mark where you get the fun cancer-free memo.”
“It’s always nice and heartfelt when people want to reach out to our children suffering, these kids go through so much,” said Maria Brenkus Gorman, Gracie’s mother. “It’s amazing when people get together to ease some of this agony.”
Gracie loves her sisters and to “nuggle” (snuggle). Her other interests include swimming, anything to do with Trolls and Disney. Gracie loves coming home from anywhere or after a long day at the hospital. “Fun fact: Gracie and her younger sister Vienna were born with the same weight and height,” Gorman said.
“[It’s] just so wonderful and cute what they did for Gracie,” Gorman said. “Seeing her play, smile and interact with people who don’t even know her but care about her and what she’s going through is indescribable.”
When there is an event, the Love Your Melon Club members get the families involved with planning by asking about the child’s interests. Since 2015, there have been events for kids on and off campus. The first event involved three pumpkins to decorate at the child’s home and last year, an Easter egg scavenger hunt was held on campus for another little girl.
Berardinelli said Gracie’s mother recalled that “every time they walk into Children’s Hospital she high fives the Mickey Mouse balloon and she loves Mickey Mouse, so I was like okay, we’re going to roll with it, and I had a lot of resources available to me and we just ran with it.”
“Seeing Gracie having so much fun and opening up to those around her was amazing and I was so happy that she had such a great time,” said Angela Beall, a member of the Love Your Melon club. “It truly was a very wholesome and fantastic experience.”
Various carnival games available to the attendees included Pluto’s bean bag basket toss, Mickey Mouse ear hopscotch, pin the bow on the Minnie and differing crafts. Darren Achtzehn, director of food services at SHU, provided cookies to decorate, mini Hot Diggity Dogs and more. There was a photobooth, popcorn and an abundance of Minnie-themed decorations for Gracie, her family and friends to enjoy. Decorations included Mickey Mouse balloons, streamers, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse music and happy smiles from the Love Your Melon club members.
“Because for three years of someone that’s going through leukemia life, it’s all about leukemia and how terrible it is, and how you lose your hair, and it’s not fun,” Berardinelli said. “It’s good to remind her for a day that she’s a kid and she’s allowed to have fun and that she’s kicking cancer’s butt. That’s why we’re all in superhero capes, because she is a superhero for battling what she is and we get to celebrate that today instead of be upset about it.”
The volunteers at the event were able to interact with Gracie and the family, making sure they had everything they wanted. Gracie was a fan of the Hot Diggity Dogs and cookie table available to them. Gracie said she loved her “MiMi” party. At the event, she wore a Wonder Woman costume to show her strength against her cancer.
“I think it’s important to help her remember there is a light at the end of the tunnel and a day to be a kid… not just a cancer kid,” Gorman said.
Gorman added a thanks to everyone who took time and energy into creating a day to make her daughter feel special. She said it truly meant so much to her and her family, as it does any other.
“And anyone looking to do something to help but not sure what, Children’s Hospital of UPMC is always looking for volunteers,” Gorman said. “These kids all need as much attention and care as possible.”
Beall said the superhero events are important because they allow kids battling cancer to just be kids.
“They go through so much hardship while battling cancer, so these events allow them to have fun and remind them that so many people are there to support them,” Beall said. “In addition, it also allows for the family to relax and have fun. Overall, I believe these events encourage positivity, strength and friendship.”
“I just really love seeing the kids’ faces when they walk through the door, it really is something that changes you,” Berardinelli said.
Published By: Stephen Dumnich