Doernbecher’s Children’s Hospital

StoryCorps travelled to Portland, Oregon as part of a partnership with Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Our trip was one of mixed emotions as we heard and recorded stories of childhood cancer patients and survivors.

Listening to our participant’s stories portrayed cancer in a unique way, dissolving certain myths about the disease.

Despite the expectation or hearing of pain and the stresses of illness, we found the stories not to be simply about pain but also hope and the willingness to live. In our stories we found that beyond the cancer, children love talking about the fun stuff; learning, creating, watching cartoons – the imagination of childhood.

During our trip we met Isabella Evans and her art instructor Frank Extaniz. Isabella was diagnosed with Leukemia and has since undergone several rounds of chemotherapy. Due to the strength of the chemo, her recollection of the treatment process is a bit hazy. Though her memory is clouded, Isabella remembers the steps in her treatment through a comic book she made in art class. Her comic book, “Syringe Girl,” is a narrated picture series of medical supplies brought to life with clay.

Isabella and Frank

“Syringe Girl” is a Isabella’s hero. She teams up with other medical items to battle Isabella’s cancer and tell the story of Isabella’s time at Doernbecher. In the comic, you can see how Isabella and Syringe Girl fight off the cancer until Isabella’s eventual recovery. Even in the midst of debilitating chemotherapy treatments, Isabella found that art helped to keep her focused.

Doernbecher hospital is filled with the artwork of its patients. Through art programs such as Frank’s class the children are given the chance to create and explore their imagination rather than focus on the troubles of their health.

Frank explains that people like Isabella should not be seen as “sick children” but should be given the means, in this case through art, to explain the narratives of their experience. They should be allowed to create their identity and tell their own stories.


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