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An Inspiring Project Helps Kids Fighting Cancer Visit Their "Happy Places"

The Short of It

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and in honor of that, the Aflac Cancer & Blood Disorders Center of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta embarked on an amazing project for some of its youngest cancer patients. The Center brought in a visual artist to draw the "happy places" that five kids battling cancer imagine going to, to escape pain, poking, and prodding. Beyond being a creative exercise, having the kids visualize a happy place, called guided imagery, is actually considered a coping mechanism that helps the kids feel better by getting their endorphins pumping. And by bringing the happy places to life in the form of beautful photo illustrations that the children get to keep, they can "visit" whenever they need to. 

The Lowdown

Cancer is scary for anyone, but it's especially hard for for children and their families. The Aflac Cancer & Blood Disorders Center knows this all too well—and created the Happy Place Project to help kids deal with pain and boost their morale. The guided imagery project encourages kids to think about favorite locations, characters, colors, foods—anything really, that will give them a break from the daily grind of poking and prodding. (Look at this little guy singing "Fight Song" to make his cancer battle easier.)

Take Hunter, 13: Diagnosed with a brain tumor that became brain cancer, this cool dude says his wheelchair doesn't belong in his happy place. He'd rather hang with a walrus wizard who uses magic to make pandas fly as high as the clouds and turns dolphins into special creatures that can live outside of water—and be taxis! Hunter has been through the ringer: rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, brain surgery, inpatient rehab and several stints in the pediatric intensive care unit—and said that the hardest part of cancer, for him, has been "just losing everything that I remember." (Okay, sob.). Now he says he goes to his happy place—taking a ride in a special dolphin-turned-cab—when he’s scared, mad, or nervous.

Justice is 16 and was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She doesn't want to hangout with the supernatural—her happy place is a seaside picnic on the lush grounds of an Italian castle on a sunny day in autumn. The picnic is packed with rich Italian cheeses, pastas, pastries and breads, “but that’s probably just the steroids talking,” she jokes. Traveling to Italy in her head and heart is helping her fight: "Just because I’ve been dealt this hand doesn’t mean I’m going to quit the game. I have to keep playing.”

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The Upshot

It's easy to tell a cancer patient to keep fighting and that everything will be okay. Trust me, I had two surgeries for head and neck cancer, biopsies, poking, prodding and radiation at age 33. You don't feel like you'll make it. Seeing this happy place video reminded me of laying in my hospital bed and realizing I had a happy place too: Hiking in the woods with my son and dog. I'm so happy these young children can escape cancer through guided imagery. I wish them pools filled with gummy bears, flying fish that sprinkle fairy dust on their eyelashes, overflowing milk shakes with double the cherries, a crayon ladder that leads to marshmallow clouds. I wish you ... a happy place. 

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