Nonprofit brings joy to newly diagnosed pediatric cancer patients by way of ‘smile packs’

Dancing While Cancering works to transform hospital experience for children with cancer

SAN ANTONIO – A nonprofit is helping bring joy to kids of all ages at Methodist Children’s Hospital through a surprised-filled backpack.

Dancing While Cancering was founded by Scott and Pammy Kramer, in honor of their daughter Maddie.

“January 2018 is when our daughter, Maddie, passed from cancer,” Pammy said. “She battled cancer as a toddler. She was diagnosed when she was two and a half years old and battled very bravely for eight months.”

Maddie was diagnosed with Atypical Teratoid Rhaboid Tumors or Atrt, a rare brain cancer.

“Many people probably haven’t heard of it because it only affects 30 to 50 kids in the whole country every year, and she was one of those kids,” Pammy said.

To honor Maddie, her parents are determined to spread joy by helping make a hospital room personal and joyful.

Her parents said they felt blessed that Maddie battled the only way a toddler knows how, with joy and innocence.

“She was so cute. She had curly hair and was very spunky, and she danced her way through her cancer journey, literally and figuratively,” Pammy said. “So, our mission is very clear and simple. It’s to bring joy to the inpatient hospital experience for kids with cancer.”

The mission is embodied in each smile pack.

“(We give) these bright neon green backpack that we call our smile pack,” Pammy said. “It’s filled with items to bring joy to the kids while they’re staying in the hospital. It’s got musical instruments or wireless speaker (and) decorations for the room. Really (the backpack is) just a reminder, right after a child is diagnosed… that they can still make their hospital room their own. (It’s also to help them) smile in that very dark time.”

This week, the non-profit celebrated their 20th hospital partnership in San Antonio.

“We are looking to spread joy wherever we can,” Pammy said. “Through an amazing support group of family and friends, we were able to connect with Methodist Children’s (Hospital) in San Antonio. Texas is our 14th state that we have a partner hospital in.”

Dancing While Cancering partners with Methodist Children's Hospital to transform hospital experience for children with cancer. (Copyright 2021 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

Jenna Painter, a child life specialist at Methodist Children’s Hospital, said they’ve received a total of nine bags, three for each age group.

“There are for our newly diagnosed patients, and so these backpacks come in three different age groups,” Painter said. “They’re perfectly age appropriate, developmentally appropriate, and just such a gift to be able to give to these families.”

Painter has witnessed how these curated items have the power to help its recipients forget or better cope their reality even if it’s for a small moment.

“I noticed such a difference being able to go in there with this backpack in hand, and this patient was especially excited about the headphones that were in the backpack,” Painter said. The child was diagnosed with cancer a few days ago. “She was able to jam out to her music, kind of drown out all the other doctors and nurses and really just focus on what she wanted to focus on when everything else was so out of control.”

Inside each bag are also decorations for the child’s hospital room.

“(The) first few days and first two weeks (are very scary),” Painter said. “And of course, it’s scary throughout, but after a while, it just gets hard. Kids are over it and anything to lift their spirits and anything to be able to bring in and make it something new and something exciting, is just such a blessing for us to be able to provide (for them).”

So far the organization has distributed more than 1,000 smile packs.

Methodist Children’s Hospital also received a shipment of toys from Dancing While Cancering’s second program ‘Maddie’s Character Closet’. “(We) bring little characters and figurines to the kids for imaginative play,” Pammy said. “Our goal is to just keep spreading joy. We have no particular number of hospitals in mind. We actually hope that we have no existence at some point in the future because childhood cancer doesn’t exist anymore, but until that day comes, we are here for the families however we can bring joy,” Pammy said.

To learn more about the non-profit, click here.

To donate and help more children receive a smile pack through Dancing While Cancering, click here.

About the Authors:

Alicia Barrera is a KSAT 12 News reporter and anchor. She is also a co-host of the streaming show KSAT News Now. Alicia is a first-generation Mexican-American, fluent in both Spanish and English with a bachelor's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. She enjoys reading books, traveling solo across Mexico and spending time with family.