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CHOC to hold prom night for teens battling cancer and for post-treatment survivors

CHOC to hold prom night for teens battling cancer and for post-treatment survivors
Former and current cancer patients attend the Children's Hospital of Orange County prom each year. The event is meant to cultivate a sense of community and create a comfortable space for teens undergoing cancer treatment and for survivors of the disease. (Courtesy of CHOC)

Lauren Aslanian was 15 when two lumps near her collarbone became painful.

Doctors caught the malignancies early and now Aslanian, 19, of La Habra is cancer-free following several rounds of chemotherapy. But the battle to reclaim her health wasn’t easy.

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To save the body from cancer with chemotherapy means poisoning it — sores, baldness and other afflictions accompany the paradoxical process.

The physical transformation can be especially unnerving for teenagers, said Kara Noskoff, child life specialist at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Orange.

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In an effort to support teens undergoing cancer treatment and post-treatment survivors, the hospital has been holding a prom for the past 16 years. This year’s event, with the theme “Around the World in One Night,” is slated for June 23.

This will be Aslanian’s fifth year at the prom.

“Cancer is a lot of ugly and pain,” Aslanian said. “The prom was the first time I felt pretty again in a long time. It’s where you pretend to be normal teenagers.”

Teens dance at a prom put on by the Children's Hospital of Orange County.
Teens dance at a prom put on by the Children's Hospital of Orange County. (Courtesy of CHOC)

Noskoff said the event is about cultivating a sense of community and creating a comfortable space for the teens, who can feel embarrassed by their outward appearance.

“Their bodies have changed — they’ve lost hair, gained or lost weight, are covered in surgical scars,” Noskoff said. “So, they can be here, feel safe and comfortable and be with others who know what they’re going through.”

For the event, hospital employees and volunteers deck out the cancer clinic according to a theme. Last year was inspired by “Alice in Wonderland.”

For this year’s travel theme, the clinic will be festooned with maps, globes and suitcases. Each room will represent a different country and there will be casino tables, a DJ, dancing and food.

About 150 patients are expected to be there with about 150 other guests, which include dates, siblings and friends.

Patients’ doctors and various celebrities also show up. James Maslow from “Big Time Rush,” Mason Cook from “Speechless,” Talitha Bateman from “Annabelle: Creation” and Sarah Drew from “Grey’s Anatomy” are scheduled to attend.

Kaley Cuoco, a star of TV's "The Big Bang Theory," second from right, attended a prom dress event for Children's Hospital of Orange County.
Kaley Cuoco, a star of TV's "The Big Bang Theory," second from right, attended a prom dress event for Children's Hospital of Orange County. (Courtesy of CHOC)

Kaley Cuoco from “The Big Bang Theory” was at a dress fitting event on June 9, when patients picked out dresses donated by stores and designers.

Male patients will pick out donated bow ties and grooming kits on June 20.

Noskoff said some hospitals organize proms for their patients, but unique to CHOC is their Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Oncology Child Life Program. The group helps with the prom along with providing a host of other supportive functions for teen patients, including organizing weekly events like bowling and movie nights.

Aslanian is a part of the leadership team for the AYA program, helping mentor new patients as part of the group — work she does while studying health science at Cal State Fullerton.

“I hope the event does for others what it did for me, making me more confident in a time where I lacked confidence,” Aslanian said. “I hope it brings them a sense of normalcy and I hope they mingle with some of us who have gone through this and realize that they are not alone in the fight.”

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