Brave, bald and beautiful: 13-year-old Sumner girl smiles in the face of cancer thanks to Mary Bridge Children's
When you first meet Claire, you see a typical teenager who loves to play soccer, camp with her grandparents and hang out with her friends.Jun 7th, 2022
By Kortney Scroger
When you first meet Claire, you see a typical teenager who loves to play soccer, camp with her grandparents and hang out with her friends. The only difference is, in 2021, she became one of the 3,000 kids diagnosed every year with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in the U.S.
“Claire was out on the soccer field, and she just kept saying her lower back and legs hurt,” Claire’s mom, Chrissy Smith, remembers. “She was missing her normal spunk. Then one night, she came home from practice and spiked a 104-degree temperature.”
After a trip to urgent care that resulted in a series of tests at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, Claire and her family had an answer for her grogginess and pain — cancer.
Claire’s care team acted fast. They immediately put in a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line to begin chemotherapy, and her view for the next two weeks was her hospital room walls.
To pass the time, child life specialist Bari Bates played games with Claire, taking her mind off her diagnosis and providing a safe space to talk. Bari is part of the donor-supported Child Life Services team at Mary Bridge Children’s that is dedicated to minimizing the stress and anxiety of children receiving medical care.
“Bari helped me work through my fears and learn coping strategies for when it’s time to take medicine, to go to sleep, stuff like that,” Claire adds.
While hospitalized, Claire also met massage therapist Lisa Gainey, LMT, who coordinates the Mary Bridge Pediatric Integrative Therapies program. The program offers services like therapeutic massage and aromatherapy to cancer and hematology patients at no cost to their families, thanks to community generosity.
“I love getting massages from Lisa,” Claire says. “She helps me with all my side effects from chemo, like tingly fingers and nausea. It also helps if I’m feeling nervous. My favorite scents are peppermint and lavender.”
Another way Claire calms her nerves is with a visit from Mary Bridge Children’s facility dog Olaf, who sits with her during treatment or before sedations.
“Every children’s hospital should have a dog, if not more than one,” Chrissy says.
A stellar care team
Claire loves her entire care team, but if she was forced to pick favorites, nurses Kirsten Kreutz, RN, Erynn Downey, RN, and Courtney Suter, RN, take the cake.
“Kirsten works in the clinic and is super gentle and understanding,” Claire says. “We talk about TV shows like “The Bachelorette.” Erin works at the hospital, and I found out that she plays hockey, which is really cool — we talked a lot about that. My mom thinks Erin is an adult version of me, which is why we get along. Courtney is a favorite because she is kind and was one of the first nurses I met.”
Favorites aside, Claire and her family are grateful to everyone who has helped her through this trying time.
“I would say, hands down, that the people who work at Mary Bridge care about my kid as much as I do,” Chrissy says. “They’re there to get them better and do everything in their power, and they’ll research until they find it. We’ve got this amazing resource in our backyard, and I’m so excited for it to grow. The best doctors and nurses are right here.”
Brave, bald and beautiful
After undergoing a year of chemotherapy, Claire wears her baldness as a badge of honor.
While this is not an experience any parent wants their child to go through, you can see the pride on the faces of Claire’s parents when they talk about their daughter.
“Never once has she covered her head,” Claire’s dad, Jason, says. “She lost her hair and didn’t try to hide. She’s rolled with every punch that she’s been given. I’m not sure I could handle what she’s gone through, and she does it with a smile on her face.”
Child Life and massage therapy provide comfort and distraction for kids going through painful cancer treatment, but these services aren’t reimbursed by insurance. You can support these donor-powered programs with a gift at supportmarybridge.org.
To learn about patient ambassadors like Claire, visit give.multicare.org/mbambassadors.