People Magazine
A Very Special Prom
July 3rd 2006
By Bob Meadows and Nicole Weisensee Egan
Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark

Jonathan Walker, 10, danced with his mom and met a new girlfriend at the June 7 prom at New York City’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. “It was great,” says Walker, who wore a mask and gloves for protection after an April bone marrow transplant, part of his battle with leukemia.

Black ties, glitzy gowns and all the punch you can drink. At a New York City cancer hospital, young patients take to the dance floor at a party just for them, leaving their troubles behind for a few hours of magical fun

Daniel Weinstein, 6, rocked out with an inflatable guitar given to him by the DJ; Sabrina Nichols was the guest of a cousin undergoing treatment.

No dancing for Emily Lang, 9 (with mom Kristin and dad Fenton), but that didn’t spoil the party: “My favorite part was the songs,” she says.

Nine-year-old Liam Ollive (with fellow patient Kimberly Rama) lost part of his leg to a rare muscle cancer. Still, “when the guys took a break from the dance floor, he couldn’t wait to get out there again,” says his mom, Martha Ollive.

Seven-year-old Kimberly Rama is a bundle of energy in her pink dress and brown wig. She twirls and giggles on the dance floor with her two sisters, any thoughts of the chemotherapy she receives five days a week to treat a rare muscle cancer seemingly far away. "To see Kim hang such a good time,” says her mom, Gail, "it's almost bringing tears to my eyes." Nearby, Yovanna Kolitsopoulos, 17, dressed in red satin, watches the action. She's partway through a two-year treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, but this June afternoon at New York City's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center prom for some 200 patients, relatives, doctors and other staff, she's smiling at the younger dancers. "This really cheers kids up," she says. "If they do have to feel sick, maybe they [at least] won't have to feel sick today."

The hospital's annual dance began in the early 1990s as a modest party to boost the spirits of young patients, who now choose their elegant attire from outfits donated to the hospital, some by Manhattan socialites. Pre-prom pampering includes pedicures and manicures and the dance itself has an all-you-can-eat sundae bar. Some of the partygoers have to remain connected to IVs; others are too ill to dance. But they come nonetheless to celebrate life. "You forget everything else for a couple of hours and have fun," says Yovanna's mom, Stacey Koument. "It's a great thing."

Kids like Zachary Morris, 4, who has neuroblastoma, bellied up to the soda bar and noshed on dinosaur chicken nuggets, pizza bagels and cookies and cakes.

Yovanna Kolitsopoulos (with her mom) admits her illness can get her down. But watching the little kids dance cheered her up. “it’s just so high-energy,” she says.

Ke’shawn Greer, 3, and his date, cousin Sabrina Nichols, 4. “It’s great these kids got a prom,” says Ke’shawn’s mom, “because who knows if they’ll get to have a prom at their school?”