March 19, 2014
“Being a teenager is about discovering your identity and feeling confident about who you are and who you are becoming,” says CBCC Child Life Specialist Nick Gonzalez. “Chronic life-threatening illness can often pierce a dagger through that process.”
Nick works with teen cancer and blood disorder patients through a CBCC informal support group called Hungry Bunch, which fosters supportive friendships amongst teens with similar health challenges. Teens enjoy monthly events—sports, movies, weekend camps, a special prom, trips to theme parks—all supervised by CBCC staff and volunteers.
Earlier this month, 25 Hungry Bunch teens got “blown away” during a visit to iFLY Austin. Participants floated on a column of air inside a vertical wind tunnel and enjoyed a safe indoor skydiving experience. It was an unforgettable evening and great fun for both teens and volunteers.
Nick has watched numerous friendships blossom at Hungry Bunch events. Teens who have completed treatment often mentor those just starting out. At the end of the night, they exchange phone numbers and make plans for their next outing.
“Teens with cancer are often unable to participate as freely with school activities and are distanced from friends in the process,” he says. “Our teens definitely enjoy seeing familiar faces at each event. This creates a comfortable environment for everyone to interact and meet new people. Because Hungry Bunch teens are going through a very similar process with treatment, they create a unique bond.”
The CBCC psychosocial team tries to integrate team building opportunities into many Hungry Bunch events.
“Camp Rocky Ridge is an annual camp for teens with cancer and offers many team building activities,” says Nick. “The rock tower requires everyone to support each other, both physically and emotionally, to reach the top. It’s great to watch teens face their fears, like when they’re having trouble climbing a tower or taking the initial jump off a zipline. It’s inspiring to see everyone working together and shouting, ‘you can do it!’”
Roberto Ramos is a CBCC patient and looks forward to hanging out with his Hungry Bunch friends. He says monthly outings are a much-appreciated escape from treatment.
“Hungry Bunch is wonderful and has helped me through hard times. It makes me feel like I’m not alone on this long, difficult journey,” he says.