Jimmy Fund Clinic families at annual Winter Festival

santa

Christina Dangond hangs out with Santa

To an outsider, it was a chance for two close friends to get together, but the Jimmy Fund Clinic Winter Festival December 8 was so much more to 7-year-old Christina Dangond, 9-year-old Brooke Mulford, and their families.

At the event at the Newton Marriott, the girls – each of whom is currently receiving cancer treatment at the clinic – made their own stuffed animals, necklaces, and other crafts; met Santa; posed for photos with the 2013 Red Sox World Series trophy; pet bunnies; and ate pizza and cookies.

Making the Sunday even more fun was spending it surrounded by hundreds of other patients, siblings, and parents for whom thinning hair or a wool hat covering a cold head indoors doesn't warrant a second look. At this party, everybody knew what it's like to have cancer in the family – and still celebrate the spirit of the season.

"There is a spirit here, and energy, faith, and hope," says Monica Lacouture, Christina's mother, of the party. "Nobody feels different – only special." Amy Mulford, Brooke's mom, agrees. "When the girls first met, Brooke said she liked Christina because, 'She's just like me,'" she says. "That's what this day is all about, too."

In addition to high-fiving Wally the Green Monster or spinning a ball in the air with help from a juggler, young patients ran into caregivers and clinic friends. In a Holiday Party tradition, Brooke's nurse practitioner, Anna Roche, NP, dressed as one of Santa's elves, handing out toys donated by TJX Corp. to every boy and girl meeting St. Nick.

"He looks forward to this all year," Annette Cassidy says of her son, Declan, 5, who has been in treatment for three years. "We're all going through a tough time, but nobody has to think about it when they're here."

Like the words on the necklace Brooke made, this day is all about "hope," "strength," and the need to "love life, live life."

"The holidays are probably the most difficult time for these children and their families," says Lisa Scherber, director of Patient and Family Programs for Dana-Farber/Children's Hospital Cancer Center, who created the Winter Festival 19 years ago. "This day gives kids a moment away from their treatment to experience the magic of the season with their families, and to be filled with joy."

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