If Dr. Linda Stork were to write a screenplay about childhood cancer, it would start something like this:
INT. AIRPORT - MORNING
Close up of a 4-year-old child waiting in line with her family.
TILT UP TO:
A woman standing in line behind the child. She looks down at the child, smiles.
WOMAN: “How cute you are and I love your hair.”
CUT TO CHILD’S POV:
Child turns around, looks up.
CHILD: “You like it? Here.”
Child pulls wig off her head and hands it to the woman, revealing her bald head.
END OF SCENE 1.
The scene ends with Dr. Stork letting out a big laugh. The child is one of many Make-A-Wish® children whose lives Dr. Stork has touched in the nearly 30 years of practicing medicine. The girl, who was four years old at the time, was on her way to meet her favorite pop singer. “It’s one of the very earliest patients I remember. I was probably just a fellow in training,” she recalled. It’s this kind of appreciation for humor and laughter alongside heartache that has kept her going all these years.
As a clinical oncologist at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland and the head of the pediatric hematology division, Dr. Stork has seen a lot of heartache. She’s also seen a lot of joy. When she started in 1987, 60 percent of all children diagnosed with cancer survived. Now, that number has risen to 80 percent. “So why is this job fulfilling? Why is it fun to be a pediatric oncologist? Because the wins are so big,” she explained. “Whatever is going to happen to that child and that family – whatever that journey – we want to make it the best possible journey from a medical point of view.”
Part of that journey for Dr. Stork’s patients includes Make-A-Wish. She’s been referring kids to the wish-granting organization since becoming a doctor in Denver, Colorado, and has seen first-hand the important role a wish-come-true plays in a child’s healing process. She remembers treating a boy in Denver whose wish was to fish in Alaska. He had so many complications from his transplant that his wish had to be postponed. Together, they set a goal for him to get better so he could go on his wish. “And he did it,” she said while raising her hands in celebration. “He brought me back salmon and halibut, and he was just ecstatic.”
Working with kids with cancer means all of Dr. Stork’s patients are eligible for the Make-A-Wish program. Being able to talk about the wish and share in the joys gives her a chance to get to know her patients on a different level and build a stronger relationship. One such patient was 16-year-old Jeffrey. His wish was to have a truck makeover that included getting a vehicle body wrap. Not only did Dr. Stork learn about truck wraps, she was on-hand when Make-A-Wish® Oregon unveiled the wish and wasn’t shy about climbing onto the truck bed for pictures. “It was just wonderful to see Jeffrey so happy. For me, it’s very important to treat the patient in his or her whole-life context, rather than just at the hospital.”
By referring her patients to Make-A-Wish Oregon, she gives them a life-changing experience, while giving herself something equally powerful. “Make-A-Wish has affected me for a long time,” she said. “It’s given me hope – the same degree of hope that has affected my patients.”
The ending for her would-be screenplay has yet to be written. While progress is being made in the fight against childhood cancer, there’s still much to be done – for scientists, for doctors and for Make-A-Wish.
DISSOLVE TO SLOW PAN UP TO BLUE SKY.
TO BE CONTINUED.