Elisabeth Röhm’s Blog: My Visit to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Her book, Babysteps: Having the Child I Always Wanted (Just Not As I Expected), will be released by Da Capo in April.
In her latest blog, Röhm — mom to 4½-year-old Easton August with fiancé Ron Anthony — opens up about her Valentine’s Day visit to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
My new friend – Courtesy St. Jude’s
Happy post-Valentine’s Day, PEOPLE.com!
I just got back from celebrating the love holiday at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. And it most definitely was a day full of love! I was moved by so many aspects of the hospital, but the faith element of Danny Thomas’ journey in creating St. Jude shone like a beacon of light. If you didn’t know it already, let me tell you that St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital‘s foundations are faith, hope, and love, love, LOVE.
In the early 1950’s, Danny was a struggling entertainer trying to find his way. One day in church, Danny prayed to St. Jude Thaddeus, the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes, and asked him to, “Help me find my way in life, and I will build you a shrine.” Shortly after, his career took a turn for the better and he flourished as an entertainer. However, Danny never forgot his promise to St. Jude Thaddeus. After sharing his vow with friends, Danny developed the idea of building a children’s hospital as his shrine. That is the faith part.
The love part was that Danny’s dream was also to build a hospital where children could be treated without regard to race, religion, creed, or family’s ability to pay. In 1962 the hospital opened its doors, becoming the first integrated hospital in Memphis. The hospital also played a vital role in the integration of hotels in the city. If a hotel refused to accept an African-American patient being treated at St. Jude, the hospital would not use the hotel’s services for ANY patient.
A lot has changed in the world since 1962, but the brick and mortar values of faith, hope and love are still at the epicenter of everything that St. Jude is about.
There are still times when people within the St. Jude family face spiritual questions, or just need someone to listen or pray with them. During these times, families can call upon chaplain services who are there to help as spiritual companions, whatever the families need. They are not there to judge or change beliefs. Their goal is to meet the families where they are and help them explore how faith can be a source of strength and comfort.
Within the walls of St. Jude, there is grief counseling with a spiritual emphasis, chances for worship, sacraments and pastoral visits. In addition, the hospital’s two chapels are open to people of ALL religious beliefs. The history of St. Jude’s unconditional acceptance of all humanity is a perfect expression of what faith truly is. A vision that started with a prayer is still going strong day after day.
We decorated cookies – Courtesy St. Jude’s
Today the survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia — the most common form of childhood cancer — is at 94 percent thanks to the research of St. Jude. As a mother, I found this information to be deeply moving. But what also jumped out and grabbed my heart on this Valentine’s Day was the conscientiousness and thought that St. Jude puts into the holistic experience for patients and their families whilst being treated in the facility.
A medical social worker at St. Jude has a master’s degree in Social Work, and has specific expertise in helping families cope with the emotional impact of living with illness; and also provides education both in the community and in the hospital about the impact of illness on patients and their families. Shortly after a family arrives at St. Jude, a social worker will meet them and help get them settled. The social work staff is there to support patients and their families through counseling, including how to talk with a patient about their illness, or how to help siblings cope with the illness.
With hugeness of heart and the education to back it up, the social workers help these families to deal with the impact of illness on everyday life — from work to school, finances and family/marriage. Now, this is a big one — the social workers are there to help the families find both financial resources and community services to support not only just the children, but also the parents as they give up months, even years, crusading to save their child’s life. Moreover, social workers are there for the families EVERY single day.
Obviously ladies, my time at St. Jude opened my heart and will not soon be forgotten. Their tireless efforts in trying to keep life as normal as possible are outstanding, and the hospital as a whole provides a feeling of family that is totally real.
Further, the St. Jude School Program Presented by Target for children undergoing treatment can offer a familiar and reassuring routine, as well as a feeling of being in step with the outside world. School gives children a chance to keep a sense of identity and hope for the future, which is vital to their progression as an individual. Whether it’s the schooling, the housing, the teen programs or the nutritional aspects — there is not a stone unturned when it comes to the well-being of St. Jude patients and families. They even have fun and therapeutic activities for the parents to help keep them sane and healthy during such trying times!
During my visit, I learned that it’s not just the medicine, it’s not just the science or the fact that treatment is free — it is a place and a community that fully encompasses the golden rule of how we should treat one another. And as a mother, knowing that there is a place like St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital allows me to sleep soundly at night. It is most definitely a prayer that has been answered, and has continued with a spirit full of so much love and life that touches so many people on a daily basis.
Yum! – Courtesy St. Jude’s
Until next time…
– Elisabeth Röhm