Wellness Program Offers Hope And Care For Young Cancer Patients And Families

CBS4 News is featuring a special series of reports this holiday season called the 12 Days of Christmas. The following story is written by CBS4’s Mark Haas.

“I didn’t feel like it was real, like it was a dream, a nightmare.” – Aliza Deluna

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Aliza Deluna was 14 last April, when while visiting family in Colorado she was diagnosed with leukemia.

“Everything was going rapidly,” the now 15-year-old says. “I started chemotherapy like right away. I didn’t even really know what leukemia was at the time.”

There is no good time to be diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. For Aliza, it happened when her single mother Randi was 5 months pregnant. Aliza says she was more worried about her mom than herself.

“I care about her and I felt like I did something wrong,” Aliza says, “but I knew I couldn’t really help it.”

Aliza Deluna (credit: CBS)

Aliza Deluna (credit: CBS)

“It was overwhelming,” Randi Deluna recalls. “To be pregnant, and I was scared and I didn’t know if I would lose the baby, and I had to stay strong for Aliza. It was terrifying to me because I know she needed me.”

Aliza and Randi live in Iowa, but chose to stay in Colorado for Aliza’s treatment, where they found their way to the 7th floor of Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“I think having a child diagnosed with cancer is one of the most difficult things you could confront as a parent,” says Dr. Bob Casey. “But life continues despite the diagnosis of cancer in a child.”

Casey is a psychologist and the director of a staff of 11 who specialize in helping families get through all aspects of what can be a stressful and terrifying ordeal.

“I often say to parents, your kid will do as well as you do,” Casey says. “And so we really support the entire family because we know kids do better when everyone in the family does better.”

The wellness program’s seventh floor staff includes a creative arts therapist who helps kids express their emotions through art; also social workers, resource and child life specialists, a chaplain and Casey.

“I had really bad anxiety when I came here,” Aliza says. “You don’t know what is going to happen and how it is going to go but he talked me through strategies to get me through my anxiety.”

“They support me with Aliza and the baby and help me whenever I need a hug or someone to talk to,” says Randi.

Aliza Deluna with her baby brother (credit: CBS)

Aliza Deluna with her baby brother (credit: CBS)

Oh yeah, Aliza now has a baby brother, Romeo (Mom let Aliza choose his name). And while Aliza’s story is still being written and her treatment is far from over, she is now in remission and Dr. Bob can help the family prepare to transition back to a more normal life.

“We are looking forward to living and her hair growing back and her being more mobile and going back to school,” Randi says.

Aliza Deluna (credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“Aliza is one of those amazing examples of a courageous, strong and fun kid,” Casey says. “I do this job because I have a chance to work with those kids.”

Additional Resources

The Brandon Schantz Wellness Fund supports Dr. Bob Casey’s work at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

To Donate Online: support.childrenscoloradofoundation.org/goto/Brandon

Or checks can be sent to:

The Brandon Schantz Wellness Fund
c/o Marylou Houston
Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation
13123 E Colfax Ave B-045
Aurora CO 80210
(720) 777-1700

A description of the Wellness Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado:

Dr. Bob Casey has pioneered a comprehensive and holistic approach to caring for the entire family as they go through a cancer journey here at Children’s Colorado. He supervises a team that includes caregivers from disciplines as diverse as psychology, social work, child life and recreation therapy, pastoral care, acupressure and creative art therapy. The Wellness Team helps not only the child fighting cancer but also that child’s siblings and parents as they deal with the emotional stresses and logistical challenges presented by a life-threatening illness. Dr. Casey’s team is funded almost entirely by philanthropic support, and gifts to this program help us provide services that insurance will never cover but that we know (and have proven) help patients have better outcomes and also helps the family survive and thrive in the face of the toughest of foes: pediatric cancer.

Mark Haas is CBS4’s weekend sports anchor and sports reporter. Read his bio or follow him on Twitter @markhaastv or on Facebook.

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