Jimmy Fund Clinic kids connect during spring training trip
March 24, 2016
Kenny Barton wasn’t a big baseball fan before last weekend's annual Jimmy Fund Clinic trip to Boston Red Sox spring training in Fort Myers, Florida. The 16-year-old cancer patient still can’t tell most ballplayers apart, but he did trade identities with Red Sox pitcher Matt Barnes during the trip.
"He took a selfie of us with my phone, and then said 'Why don’t we try a face swap?'" Barton recalls of the encounter, during a meet-and-greet between 43 teenage patients from Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center and Sox players in Fort Myers. "It was really cool, and the picture ended up getting tweeted by the Red Sox."
Whether Barnes pitched in the game that afternoon wasn’t important to Barton. Although nervous entering the weekend because he didn’t know the other kids going, and had never flown, by the time his mother arrived at Dana-Farber to pick him up late Sunday night, he was exchanging phone numbers with new friends.
"At first, a lot of us talked about our cancer, because that’s how we could relate to each other, but by the end of the weekend we all felt very close," says Barton, who is in the early stages of a two-year protocol for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). "I had a really nice talk with a kid who just finished ALL treatment, and he gave me a lot of advice about keeping my head up and staying positive."
Keeping upbeat was not a problem during the trip, which started 14 years ago and is made possible by the Jimmy Fund Golf tournament Tame the Tigers presented by Amica Mutual Insurance Company. Thanks to their generosity, and supported by doctors, nurses, and Jimmy Fund Clinic staff members serving as chaperones, the kids enjoyed moments with Red Sox players like Barnes, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz and got to watch Saturday’s game from a private suite filled with hot dogs and other baseball-centric food. Equally important, the teens had time to just hang out and swim at the Hyatt Coconut Point Resort.
For Carlie Gonzalez, 15, who, like Barton, had not returned to high school since being diagnosed last fall, it was a chance to connect with friends old and new while dealing with challenges from Ewing sarcoma, a tumor of the bone and soft tissue.
"I had surgery in January to remove my collarbone, and finished my occupational therapy just a few days before the trip," says Gonzalez. "There was a rock wall at the hotel, and I never thought I’d make it to the top, but I did."
Such moments, event organizers and chaperones Lisa Scherber and Jen Noonan agree, are what the weekend is all about.
"Parents trust us and the process enough to let us take their kids on a trip during this difficult time in their lives – which is incredible," says Scherber, director of Patient and Family Programs at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s. Noonan, Jimmy Fund Clinic adolescent specialist, agrees.
"You can have nurses, doctors, and family members tell you you’re going to be OK," she adds, "but when you have a peer who is going through the exact same thing, and is doing well, that’s the type of medicine and confidence you need."
The type of medicine needed to return to school, like Carlie did on Tuesday, for the first time since early October.
This video with highlights from the trip was made by Carlie Gonzalez, 15, a Jimmy Fund Clinic patient who has proudly turned her New York-bred father into “sort of” a Red Sox fan.