Riley prom gives cancer patients night to remember

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — When Lindsey Zelt went to the prom last year, her hair was just stubble.

It was to be different Friday evening when, now 16, she attended her second Riley Cancer Center Prom, an event now in its fifth year, that draws more than 350 patients at Riley Hospital for Children, family members and staff.

The event is put on for all patients at Riley, including those who are still undergoing treatment, and for former patients who have recovered in the previous year.

It represents a day of pampering and fun for young people, said Kaia Zelt, Lindsey Zelt's mother. The day starts with what is called spa day, where the girls get their nails done and get makeup, and get their hair done - if they have hair. The boys get to spend that time in a man-cave with video games.

A month ahead of the prom, the girls get to go shopping for prom wear in a shop that contains 1,000 donated dresses, shoes, purses, jewelry and other accessories.

The boys pick out tuxedos.

Riley pulls out all the stops for the prom.

This year's theme, "Passport to Adventure," included a New York City cityscape, a candy bar set in China, dancing in Morocco under an Arabian tent, and an Arctic setting for people to cool their feet, The Journal Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/1lGJaRN ).

"There are kids coming in with nurses wearing masks in a wagon," said Kaia Zelt, who attended last year. "Some kiddies are pretty sick when they come to the prom, but their faces light up."

Lindsey Zelt was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in October 2012 and started undergoing five rounds of chemotherapy at Riley shortly after that. Each round of treatment lasted 27 to 29 days, with a four-day break in between to go home and see family.

Lindsey Zelt remained in the hospital until late February, when she returned home and has remained in remission.

The prom, to patients who have gotten to know one another while in the hospital, "is like you've come home," Kaia Zelt said.

"She definitely looks forward to it," she said. "But I know it will be sad because one girl who she was in the hospital with died two days after Thanksgiving."

That girl, who was 14, attended the prom last year, but only for a few minutes because she was in treatment.

Lutheran Hospital's pediatric oncology department also had a prom this year for the first time, largely a party where patients and former patients, some just toddlers, get to dress up and have a party, said Lizette Downey, a spokeswoman for Lutheran.

Parkview has events for former patients but does not have a prom.

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Information from: The Journal Gazette, http://www.journalgazette.net

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