No one would ever know Campbell Smith is in her 99th week of cancer treatment. The 9-year-old had a bright smile on her face as she went through each of the beads on her new necklace telling what each of them represent and how they’ve led her along the journey to recovery.
“This is the fish bead,” she said while holding up the shiny red fish strung along a black cord with her name spelled out in white square beads. “It represents the challenges of the illness.”
Smith’s necklace is part of a new program called Beads of Courage. Cancer and blood disorder patients at Niswonger Children’s Hospital will receive a bead for every procedure, milestone, treatment event or act of bravery. At the kickoff Wednesday, Smith also received a bead of courage for getting up in front of the group to talk about her experiences and how excited she was to start the program.
“This is to help children who have serious illnesses to record, to tell and to own their own journey with their treatment process,” said Marinda McConnell, childlife program specialist at Niswonger Children’s Hospital.
Many parents like Becky Buckner have also traveled to Memphis for treatments and taken part in a similar program there. After McConnell received numerous inquiries from those who had been involved with Beads of Courage elsewhere, it was implemented in Johnson City.
Buckner’s son, Jacob, has collected more than 400 beads since he began treatment in June 2010.
“When we got started with the bead program in Memphis, Jacob was excited,” she said. “He would wake up in the morning and ask what was on the schedule. I would tell him and then he would ask ‘Do I get beads for that?’ ”
“He’s proud of his beads. He holds them out and looks at them. It brings many tears of joy and sadness and shows where he’s had a transfusion, a bad day, a spinal infusion or chemotherapy treatment.”
McConnell looks for Beads of Courage to provide similar successes at Niswonger Children’s Hospital by helping patients increase their ability to share what they go through on a daily basis, while decreasing illness-related distress and creating optimism and positivity.
About 40 children and adolescent patients will get their startup strands throughout the week, then they will keep track of their treatment process in a journal that will let them know when they’ll receive a bead. Many of those who attended the launch party Wednesday already had a blue bead, signifying a clinic visit. Smith had a blue one, plus three special “100 beads” that each represent 100 beads she accumulated throughout her treatment, but since the program just started, she didn’t have room for all of them on her new necklace.
The strands of colorful beads in all shapes and sizes will be more than an accessory for these special patients. It will be an outward symbol of their perseverance.
“They will be colorful reminders of the experiences they go through,” said Dr. Marcela Popescu. “They can use them to tell their stories. As it gets longer it will grow heavy, but it can be a reminder of the courage and strength needed for the fight.”