Avery McAvoy’s last day in the hospital was a long-awaited milestone, but all the 2-year-old cared about was how it ended: with bubbles.
After 12 months of treatment for neuroblastoma at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, much of which was spent on the inpatient oncology and hematology unit at Boston Children’s Hospital, Avery participated on a Friday afternoon last month in what has become a beloved discharge ritual for clinical staff and patient families. Lining both sides of the corridor outside her room, nurses and other caregivers cheered and blew bubbles as Avery and her parents walked past them.
There were high-fives, a certificate of achievement, and tears of joy for the guest of honor, who will come back every three months for outpatient follow-up at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Avery’s parents know there may be more hospital stays in the future, but the end of a treatment protocol that included a stem cell transplant and six months of immunotherapy is cause for celebration.
“It’s a beautiful sendoff,” says her mother, Becky McAvoy. “We have built relationships with these people over the past year, and although going home is a big and scary step, it was the most special part of our treatment experience. I can’t wait until Avery grows up and I can show her the video.”
Staff are similarly touched by the tradition. Each time a long-term patient in the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s oncology program is discharged from the hospital, a crowd gathers. On that afternoon word of Avery’s discharge spread quickly, and caregivers were there to usher the McAvoys out in style.
“While they are here, patients and their parents become part of our family,” says oncology nurse Kirsten Joachim, BSN, RN. “We understand more than anybody on the outside what they are going through, and we want to celebrate with them the closing of this chapter in their lives.”
Unlike a book, however, there is no set number of chapters in pediatric cancer treatment. The uncertainty of what lies ahead makes going home a milestone that’s both joyous and anxious.
“This is a chance for families to live in and relish the moment,” says Heather Strauch, a patient and family educator at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s. “We think every day is a reason to celebrate for these patients, whether you are going home or your first hair is growing back after chemotherapy, but certainly this one is extra special.”
Discharge parade supplies including a bubble-making machine, presents for the patient, and a set of Bluetooth speakers are donated by One Mission, a charitable foundation dedicated to enhancing the lives of pediatric cancer patients and their families. Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” was playing as Avery and her parents rolled her suitcase down the hallway. Mom Becky took a moment to smile and say, “We love you all!” as they headed for the elevator, and Avery gave a final wave.