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Tufts Medical School Students ‘Adopt’ Kids With Cancer

July 23, 1988

BOSTON (AP) _ Kathy Foster, a third-year student at Tufts University School of Medicine, was caring for a 10-year-old boy with cancer last year when she noticed his depression over being tutored while other youngsters were out playing.

″I thought, that’s something medical students could do - help kids with their school work while they’re at the hospital undergoing chemotherapy,″ said Foster in an interview Friday.

Foster organized a group called Kids in Chemotherapy Support (KICS) and passed out a questionnaire to other students to find out how many might want to donate their time. She was amazed by the response - more than 75 Tufts medical students signed up.

In order to link young cancer patients with medical students, Foster contacted Dr. Lawrence Wolfe, assistant professor of pediatrics at Tufts Medical School and chief of pediatric hematology-oncology at the New England Medical Center. So far, seven KICS students and patients have been matched.

The program is similar to the Big Brother-Big Sister organization. But the medical students help the children through the kind of difficulties most kids fortunately don’t face.

″The older kids are really concerned about their appearance, such as hair loss or being too thin. Or their faces may be swollen from steroids,″ said Foster.

Students learn to help the kids cope with their problems cautiously.

″You can’t just come right out and ask them how they feel about losing their hair,″ she said. ″But after playing a board game with them four or five times, a lot of kids will confide in you and say they’re afraid of cancer.″

Many children spend their eight hours of chemotherapy in the hospital alone, with family or friends. Foster said she is helping a 15-year-old Vietnamese girl who has Oriental cholangitis, a rare gastrointestinal disorder. The girl lives with her grandmother and other relatives, who attach a social stigman to her illness, Foster said.

Chris Aho, spokeswoman for the medical school, said school officials were surprised at the number of students who signed up for the program.

″Part of it is they’re so anxious to be with patients,″ said Aho. ″They want to help so much. They’re looking for that humanitarian aspect in people.″

The students and the children often go on group outings. Last spring, they attended a Red Sox baseball game at Fenway Park. The highlight of the game, said Foster, wsa watching seven-year-old Derek Walsh, a KICS child, enjoy the game.

Walsh had a Wilms’s tumor on his kidney but following surgery and chemotherapy, he is cancer-free at this point. He was strong enough to play baseball this spring.

Foster said many of the students have formed close bonds with their young friends and their families.

″When you are assigned to a child, you have that childthe whole time they are undergoing chemotherapy,″ said Foster. ″Some parents have even invited students over for dinner. The students involved in these programs just love it. They wouldn’t give it up for anything.″

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