How do you explain cancer to a 7 year old? Reassure a toddler about chemotherapy? Sometimes the best advice a kid can get is from another kid.
“It’s hard making videos about cancer,” Baha, 12, explains. “You really have to think about it. But I knew I wanted to inspire kids who get sick. They are worried like I was when I first got cancer. I don’t want them to be worried. It isn’t as hard as it seems if you go to a place like Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.”
Yazan, Baha’s father, marvels at his son who celebrated four years in cancer remission during September, Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. “It’s amazing really. How did he become such a special boy? His first thought is always taking care of others and worrying about his family while he hides his own fears. Now he’s even making videos.”
Care Half a World Away
Baha was on vacation a few summers ago visiting his grandparents and learning about his Palestinian heritage when what seemed like allergy problems turned out to be something much more serious. A doctor in Jerusalem recommended Johns Hopkins All Children’s in St. Petersburg, Fla.—not far from the family’s Central Florida home—upon seeing his blood work. There was no time to waste.
Medical records were sent and the International Medical Program team at Johns Hopkins All Children’s helped the family arrange their emergency flight home through the American Consulate and was waiting to guide them through immediate admission after their groggy middle-of-the-night arrival.
Baha was officially diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML,) an aggressive cancer that starts in the bone marrow and requires quick and aggressive treatment.
Experts Close to Home
“There was nowhere else we even considered. We are so lucky to have those experts just a few hours away from Orlando,” Yazan explains.
Baha and his family remained at the hospital for six months while he had five grueling cycles of chemotherapy.
“With this latest blood draw, we are celebrating Baha’s fourth anniversary since being declared cancer-free,” says Linda, his smiling mom. But the intensity of what he went through remains in Baha’s thoughts. He knows he wasn’t the only one.
From Treatment to ‘Action!’
“There is a girl in my class, and her brother has cancer,” Baha explains about his interest in video. “Every time she talks about him, she kind of starts to cry. I talked to him and his cancer isn’t as bad as some other kids have, but his parents are scared like my parents were.”
That classmate, combined with seeing one of his favorite doctors in a YouTube video talking about his favorite hospital, gave Baha an idea. He secretly got to work on creating his own video to help other children. Eventually he realized he needed some help, so now, big brother Aladden and little sister Dalal produce and direct, offering suggestions on his camera poses and his dialog. At the end of the day, they simply want to make other children feel better.
“We are still finishing up some of the videos and I am going to put them up on YouTube,” Baha says. When asked how the word will get out, he explains that his friends will help him share the links. “Baha is kind of a rock star at school,” Yazan explains. Baha shyly but knowingly agrees. “My friends think it’s cool,” he says of the video idea.
Yazan and Linda each remember how much their time at Johns Hopkins All Children’s meant to the family. With every successful blood test milestone, the family relaxes a little more. “We are in love with this hospital. There isn’t a day that goes by that Johns Hopkins All Children’s isn’t mentioned in our home,” Yazan recalls. “We have friends and families who come visit from overseas and we tell them about our experience in that hospital for nearly seven months. They found a way to take care of the kids, they took care of the adults. Now Baha wants me to get a job at the hospital so they can play there all the time.”
Whether he’s in front of the camera or taking action behind the scenes, Baha and his family are getting rave reviews for helping children with cancer at Johns Hopkins All Children’s.
Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/cancer for more information about the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Cancer & Blood Disorders Institute.