Your gifts provide moments of normalcy for kids fighting cancer

Peter got special visits from therapy dog Zoey while he was in the hospital.

Ten-year-old Peter Rapatas first noticed lumps in his neck in April 2019, right around Easter.

“He’d been sick with the flu, so we thought maybe his lymph nodes were still swollen,” explained his mother, Gina. “The pediatrician said to keep an eye on him for a week, use a warm compress, and then follow up with an ear, nose and throat specialist if there was no improvement.”

Then Peter came into their bedroom one night. His armpit felt swollen.

“He’d been playing football the day before, so we thought it might be an injury,” said Peter’s dad, Gus. “We didn’t think much of it at first.”

Gina took Peter in for an ultrasound on his neck and armpit. “The pediatrician called us that night and told us to go to the Emergency Department,” she recalled. “Peter was admitted to Advocate Children’s Hospital and had a CAT scan and a biopsy. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma on May 16.”

Peter spent a week in the hospital. “Being in the hospital one day is fine, but a week – your whole life turns upside down,” said Gus.

Fortunately, the Child Life Program made it easier for Peter and his family.

“The child life specialists were great at distracting Peter—and us—from what was happening,” said Gina. “They helped explain his illness and each procedure in a way he and his older sister could understand.”

And the little things the team provided brought particular comfort.

“On his first day of chemotherapy, he got Beads of Courage. Every time we came in for a new procedure or appointment, he’d get another bead to add to his necklace,” said Gina. “He’s already got a full necklace.”

“The specialists checked on him often and kept him busy,” added Gus. “His spirits have been high since his diagnosis, and we think it’s because of that first week in the hospital.”

Peter got to visit with magicians, therapy dogs and the popular mobile fish tank, all funded through philanthropy. “Now he wants his own fish tank!” laughed Gina.

Peter with his sister (center), and a friend at a #PeterStrong fundraiser.

Giving back

Peter is now on his fourth and final round of chemo.

“He’s mostly been very positive about the whole experience,” said Gina. “He has days when he just doesn’t feel well, but overall, he’s been the strongest one out of all of us. He’s really taught us a lesson in how to deal with this.”

The Rapatas family feels fortunate to have had so much support from family, friends, neighbors and coworkers throughout Peter’s cancer journey. Now, they want to help other families who are in similar situations.

“There was a fundraiser held for us recently, and we knew we wanted to donate a percentage of the proceeds back to the hospital. But Peter wanted to make sure the donation went to support the Child Life Program, which means so much to him and to all of us,” said Gina.

She and her husband are also incredibly grateful for Peter’s care team and all they’ve done for their son.

“All the doctors and nurses have been great,” said Gus. “They’ve been like part of our family, and they made it very comfortable for what we had to go through.”

How you can help

Illness, hospitalization and painful medical treatments can be very frightening and confusing for a child. The Child Life Program at Advocate Children’s Hospital focuses on the emotional and developmental needs of children and their families. Play and other forms of communication along with therapeutic activities such as art therapy and music therapy help reduce the stress associated with health care experiences and enable children and families to cope in a positive manner.

These programs and activities are supported by generous contributions from donors like you. If you’d like to make a gift and help children like Peter, please click here.