Through the American Cancer Society Special Friends program, children with cancer and their siblings are each matched with medical students, who provide support and friendship to the children without being directly involved in the medical aspects of their treatment. Medical students are paired with their special friends based on outside interests and hobbies. In return, medical students gain personal perspectives and valuable insights into the course of children’s illnesses over an extended period of time through involvement with children and their families. These activities provide an important opportunity for children undergoing treatment and for their siblings to be able to smile, laugh and play with other children in similar situations.
The Special Friends program utilizes Med Students (2nd-4th years) from SIU School of Medicine in this program. We currently have six families in the program with 15 children in the program and 35 med students in the program. Our families come from many different areas in Illinois, but most parties are hosted in Springfield. We have families from the program located in New Berlin, Petersburg, Lincoln, Mattoon, Mt. Pulaski and Springfield. This program is ran by the Regional Leadership Board’s Volunteer Council of the American Cancer Society. This Council is led under the direction of Diana Weyhenmeyer (St. John’s), Brittany Blaise (SIU Med Student) and myself and hosts four other invaluable members that help plan parties, recruit med students and families and secure donations for the program. The Board plans five to six parties each year (typically three in the fall and three in the spring). Some examples of parties that we’ve hosted in the past couple years include a hockey party with the Junior Blues, a Halloween party at Kristin’s Pumpkin Patch, a holiday party complete with a visit from our friend from the North Pole, a Valentine’s party with cookie and card decorating, an Ergadoozy party, a trip to the zoo and a summer cook out. Kids do not have to be in treatment to be part of this program. In fact most kids are a few years out of treatment. They are eligible from ages 3-18. For more information contact Katie Champion at the American Cancer Society, 217.356.9076.