At CHOC Oncology Prom, cancer patients celebrate teenage milestone

From The Orange County Register

By Maria Ekberg Padilla, Contributing Writer

Christine Ianev, cancer patient battling Ewing Sarcoma bonce cancer

Christine Ianev, right, reacts after looking at her make-up in the mirror. Ianev, who has been battling Ewing Sarcoma bone cancer since being diagnosed in 2013, was getting ready for the 2016 Oncology Prom. (Photo by Register Staff Photographer, Paul Rodriguez)

For one night, an area of the Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Orange was transformed into a magical ballroom for an “Evening in Paradise,” with dancing, games, food and friends who can relate all too well to sacrifice, loss and fighting to stay alive.

“It makes me forget everything that’s happening and feel normal for a night, like a regular teenager,” said Ianev about the 15th annual Oncology Prom. “It’s an escape really.”

But it was only temporary.

Two days later, 17-year-old Ianev, who is battling bone cancer for the second time, was back at the hospital, hooked up to an IV for five hours of chemotherapy treatment.

But that, too, is only temporary, she said a word she lives by to cope with the harsh reality of fighting the disease, she said.

Ianev learned she had Ewing’s sarcoma in 2014 after having pain in her leg, something doctors first believed to be growth pain. Once MRI scans confirmed cancer in her femur, she went through a nine-hour surgery to remove a tumor and replace her foot-long femur with a titanium rod. The procedure left her in a wheelchair without the ability to walk for 10 months. She also went through 14 rounds of chemotherapy and 48 rounds of radiation.

“It’s like a war, and every day you fight,” said her mom, Lina. “They are like soldiers but are fighting a different war.”

Since 2013, Ianev has lost seven friends to the disease, the most recent one last month.

After she survived her first bout with cancer and was cancer-free for 16 months, the cancer returned with a vengeance last year.

“That was really hard to see,” her mom said. “But she is really strong and I am inspired by her.”

Ianev has never been to a school prom. But CHOC’s child life specialists, like Kara Noskoff, organize the hospital prom so the teens can forget about their battles for a night.

“We want to celebrate all they’ve accomplished and overcome,” she said. “In the midst of treatment, they can still have joy. We don’t just care for them medically but also want to give them quality of life and re-create a sense of normalcy.”

During the event, everyone is prom king or queen, said Andrea Hanigan, CHOC spokeswoman.

“We want to make sure they have an opportunity to feel like teenagers and not missing out on an experience,” she said. “We don’t want to put illness in front of childhood.”

Especially prom, which is a rite of passage, she said.

“It’s not glamorous going through cancer treatment, but this is their chance to look beautiful,” she said. “It’s a magical event for them and us.”

Teens can receive a makeover and hairdo while dressing up in donated designer gowns.

On an everyday basis, music and faith help Ianov cope during her journey of survival. With help from the Jessie Rees Foundation, she wrote and recorded a song to encourage other sick kids to never give up. All proceeds from its sale on iTunes are donated to the foundation to create joy jars for kids.

“She has done an incredible job to share her story with the world, and it shows her bravery,” Noskoff said. “She really has been an amazing role model for our newly diagnosed patients. She has a big heart for other people and encourages them on their journey.”

Ianev has missed out on going to school and participating in social events because of the risk of infection during her treatments. She is home-schooled and is looking forward to graduating from high school to go to college to study music.

“I don’t give up and I keep going,” she said. “All I know is I want to sing.”

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