JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --
Hangar 3, a huge, stark structure traditionally intended for military aircraft maintenance, was transformed into a winter wonderland filled with various displays, performances and food for the 30th annual Parents and Children Fighting Cancer Holiday Party on Dec. 9.
The event also included a special visit by Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. The Fisher House, an organization that provides a home for family member’s during a loved one’s hospitalization, sponsored the event. More than 200 guests, including 30 patients assigned to the pediatric oncology department at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, attended this year’s party.
According to Janet Grampp, JBA Fisher House manager, the event began in 1987 under the leadership of Jeanette Ruffing, then Family Support Center director. Grampp said Ruffing became aware of a few families here who had children that were cancer patients and wanted to do something special for them during the holidays.
For some guests, such as Krista Allphin and her daughter Carly, this was their first time attending the event.
“Carly was diagnosed about 18 months ago, but has been in remission for about eight months. We’re happy to be here celebrating,” Allphin said. “Last year, she was in the hospital so we weren’t able to come. It’s just so fun to watch my kids run around and be so excited to receive gifts, play and eat good food.”
For those who couldn’t make the event, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, along with their elves, also visited children at Walter Reed, spreading the holiday spirit and giving gifts.
Grampp said the event brought cheer to guests, and allowed them to briefly forget the traumatic situations their families may be in.
“It’s an emotional roller coaster preparing for the event, but seeing the kids’ faces when Santa appears and hearing them scream is a moment that hooks us and keeps us coming back,” she continued. “There is something magical about bringing kids joy who spend most of the year in and out of the hospital. It’s important for all of us to remember the blessings we have in our lives.”
Some of the volunteers included children who overcame cancer, along with their families. Marie Sherouse was diagnosed in 1997, and first attended this event then. Twenty years later and now cancer-free, she returned in costume as the Disney princess, Snow White.
Although the weather was cold outside, there was no shortage of holiday warmth in Hangar 3.
“Even if it’s snowing, it’s worth it,” Allphin said. “It’s amazing to spend time with the people that we love, seeing our nurses and doctors, and the moms that I’ve cried with, who were my strength to get us through the really hard times -- we’re so thankful to be here and for the event.”