Young cancer patients take a break from the battle at ‘Oncology Ball’

From The Orange County Register

By Mike Fernandez

Some dressed up in suits and gowns. Some were on crutches. Some pulled electronic carts attached to IV lines dangling from their bodies.

All were eager to attend the 18th annual Oncology Ball at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Orange.

About 250 former and current cancer patients and their friends, mostly teens, walked down the tornado alley hallway to the “Wizard of Oz”-theme dance floor, Saturday, June 29, where the ball this year was called “There’s No Place Like CHOC.” It lived up to its name.

The annual gala is an opportunity for cancer and sickle cell disease patients — who are in a daily fight for their lives — along with survivors, to enjoy a prom-style evening with their friends. And no parents allowed, just like a high school prom.

Saturday started with patients dressing in their ballroom best and, if they wanted, getting their makeup done by professional makeup artists including YouTube star Manny “MUA” Gutierrez.

While Gutierrez was on the hospital campus, he visited the room of Kenia Corona-Contreras, who couldn’t attend the ball.

Corona-Contreras has been battling sickle cell disease her whole life and has all of her blood replaced every three weeks. But that didn’t prevent her from jumping around in her bed when she saw the social media sensation enter her hospital room.

For some, including Iris Deptula, 24, the makeovers included wig-fittings. As she waited for her wig, Deptula sat in a black dress with lace, her husband Nathaniel standing by her side. Her face beamed when the brown wig was pulled out and she put it on.

“It feels so weird,” she said. “I can feel hair along the side of my face.”

Deptula recently started her second round of radiation and is into her ninth of 12 rounds of chemotherapy, which has caused her hair loss.

“I’m handling the treatments pretty well,” Deptula said. “Been looking forward to this. I knew it was going to be fun, but what really keeps my spirits up and thinking positively is my faith in God.”

Deptula has been to a high school prom and another CHOC ball, but she said Saturday’s party was different. “This means more to me because of the battle this past year with cancer,” she said.

Wearing a copper-color sparkling dress, a pink bow on her head, Jezzabel Carlos, 14, sat with her family waiting for the ball to start. Carlos has been battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia for about eight months and has been undergoing chemotherapy treatment for two weeks. She’s been experiencing nausea and fatigue as a result.

“I feel better tonight, just excited, never been to prom,” said Carlos, who brought two cousins as dates.

Hannah Garcia, 15, also has acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She showed up wearing a black shirt with a large peace sign on it. She had her eyelids done in a smokey wine color, had her nails done, picked out some shoes and a black strapless dress with flowers and was preparing to be fitted for a pink wig.

Garcia had chemotherapy two weeks ago.

“It makes me feel good that even though I’m getting that treatment, I’m feeling healthier at the same time,” she said before the ball. “I’m looking to have fun and dance, meet new people, make new friends.”

When they entered the ballroom, party-goers were greeted with applause and hugs from CHOC volunteers and friends.

As some danced, ate, talked with each other and had their pictures taken, Duncan Starkenburg, 14, wearing a suit and tie and donning a red mohawk haircut, played poker. An IV stretched from his body to an electric cart he pulled around.

Starkenburg was diagnosed with leukemia just a week ago, and had his second round of chemotherapy a day before the ball. But he couldn’t miss his first prom.

“I’m feeling a little tired, but I wanted to come to the event,” he said. “Just happy to be here!”