Judith Sato, M.D., emceeing the movie-magic themed talent show at the 2017 annual picnic.
For one day in June every year, the pediatric team at City of Hope puts away their lab coats, scrubs and stethoscopes for a special celebration: the annual Pediatric Picnic.
Spearheaded by pediatric oncologist Judith Sato, M.D., the department brings current and former pediatric cancer patients and their families together to give them the chance to have a good time with other patients and families who have experienced, or are still experiencing, the treatment journey. The annual event also gives patients a chance to connect with their doctors, nurses and other health care providers in a nonclinical environment.
The first picnic was a small affair with around 200 patients and family members. Now in its 20th year, the event has grown to nearly 2,000 guests.
Here, Sato, chair emeritus and professor in the Department of Pediatrics and director of the Musculoskeletal Tumor Program at City of Hope, reflects on the annual Pediatric Picnic and shares why the long-running event is one of the highlights for the City of Hope community each year.
Israel Reuda performs in the "Got Talent" show at the annual Pediatric Picnic
What is the purpose of the annual picnic?
We wanted to create a day for these children to have fun outside of where we were taking care of them and enjoy a day with all of us — the caregivers — and our families so they can see that we are really the same and not just scary people who go over life-threatening treatments and procedures with them.
What has changed the most since the first picnic?
It has really grown over the years. It started with me going around to all my friends and asking if they could pitch in and help donate their time and funds. And now it has turned into an event where the community really are the ones giving back to City of Hope’s young cancer survivors. I also have a committee of people who start meeting in January to begin planning this event.
Loyal supporters include City of Hope’s Food Industries Circle, Bristol Farms, Albertsons, Ralphs, Panda Express and Smart & Final. Disney also sends out characters and Disney Channel stars to interact with patients and their families.
What can patients and families expect at the event?
We have games where the kids win prizes — all which are donated from different companies, private donors and organizations. Also, for the past five years or so, we’ve had professional comic book artists who draw for Disney, DC Comics and Marvel come and draw for everyone. Our patients love watching the drawings come to life. The artists enjoy it because they can talk to the kids. And if there are kids who really want to learn to draw, they can talk about what it takes to become a comic artist.
For the entertainment, we have Magic Castle come. They donate as part of their community outreach effort and perform for an hour on stage and get the kids involved.
For the past five years, we've also had City of Hope's own Got Talent show where patients can perform. I am joined by Richard Halpern, aka “The Fake Austin Powers,” who helps emcee the event.
What moment do you most look forward to each year?
The event allows families to come back when they haven't seen each other in a while because their children are cured and they haven't been in the hospital.
When you're a family member of an inpatient, you start to know other families in the hospital and actually become like family. Everyone really becomes close to one another. When a child is cured, then that family is only coming into the outpatient clinic for checkups so they might not see their friends. The picnic is a way to have a reunion with these friends.
We also have patients come out every year who were treated more than 20 years ago. They were treated when they were young and are now almost 40 years old.
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