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A Special Day In London For Young California Cancer Victims

August 7, 1987

LONDON (AP) _ Not every youngster visiting London gets to pilot a Scotland Yard police launch on the River Thames, but it happened Friday for a special group of American cancer victims given a trip of a lifetime.

Seven youngsters from the Los Angeles area, aged 11 to 15, are on a 10-day visit sponsored by a London charity, the Park Royal Appeal Fund, which arranges trips to Disney World in Florida for British children stricken with cancer.

The California kids seemed divided over whether they were having the most fun learning Cockney rhyming slang from three of the jolliest constables Scotland Yard has to offer, or taking turns piloting the police launch Patrick Colquhoun along a magical, two-hour cruise of the Thames.

They traveled under Tower Bridge, past the Tower of London, to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, and back to Greenwich and the soaring masts of the Cutty Sark clipper ship.

″These kids are not necessarily in a terminal illness,″ said nurse Debby Cahil, a UCLA Hospital cancer specialist who accompanied the group. ″Some might eventually die but they are not in danger now. This experience lets them have a good time, and it shows people you can do a lot with a chronic illness. Life doesn’t stop.″

Ms. Cahill said several of the children were not taking any medication, while others were being treated for side effects of chemotherapy, and she was giving daily chemotherapy medication to one of the young girls.

Asked if the trip helps their morale, she replied, ″Most of them have great morale already. They give more to the world by coming over here than they get.

″But it lets them know they are special, in case they feel they have had a raw deal in life,″ she said.

Asked what she liked best, Gina Holmes, 12, of Orange, Calif., opted first for steering the boat, but then decided it was Constable Don Morrison. ″He’s real nice,″ she said.

Morrison, a beat patrolman, is driving the group around London in a van and arranging visits with special privileges - such as entering the Tower of London before opening time and not having to wait in line to see the crown jewels.

The children will see the Los Angeles Rams and the Denver Broncos play at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, and on Monday they will see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace - but from inside the palace fence, not crowded outside like every other tourist.

Robert Ambriz, 12, of Norwalk, Calif., said he especially liked the hotel where they were staying, then admitted, ″I’m kind of excited to go to the Rams game.″

Bob and Marilyn Kennedy, of Orange, served as chaperones for the group, which includes their 12-year-old son, Andrew. He was diagnosed five years ago as having a form of leukemia but has been off medication for two years, said Kennedy, 46, a lawyer.

″Any kids that have gone through cancer and survived are something special,″ he said. ″These kids are all fighters.″

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