The artists were fidgety.
Debby Jennings, 6, was wearing a red-and-white polka dot Minnie Mouse dress and concentrating with all her might on trying to blow up a green balloon.
Krystle Lee, also 6, and dressed in lavender and lace, was gleefully racing around a table, trying to catch her brother, Jonathan, 3.
On this particular day, the girls were at Childrens Hospital of Orange County for a party to celebrate Krystle's birthday. The event was also a celebration of the publishing of artworks by the girls, both of whom have been cancer patients at the hospital.
Krystle's finger-painted green Christmas tree with red bulbs and Debby's colorful angels surrounded by hearts are two of four artworks appearing on the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation's 1989 Christmas cards.
CHOC patients Lisa Page, 14, and Charles Kaupke, 14 months, also contributed to the project. Lisa created a California Christmas scene called "Here Comes Sandy Claws" featuring a bear at the beach. Charles contributed his footprints to a colorful design with the inscription "Walk Into the New Year on Rainbows."
The foundation has been using patient artwork for three years to raise funds for the Pediatric Cancer Laboratory at CHOC and has set a goal of producing 80,000 cards this year and raising $50,000.
Parents of children being treated at CHOC started the foundation in 1982. Eventually it expanded to include "concerned citizens who wanted to help out and do their part," says Jeff Dankberg of Mission Viejo, president of the group.
The organization has raised more than $1 million for the Pediatric Cancer Laboratory through various activities, according to Dankberg.
Dr. Mitchell Cairo, director of bone marrow transplants and cancer research at CHOC, said the impetus behind the Christmas card project was a desire to "combine a recreational therapy program for the children with a fund-raising event that would turn around and benefit the children participating in the program."
"I think it's a wonderful (way) to raise money for this cause," says Gerry Jennings of Dana Point, Debby's mother and a member of the foundation board. "People love seeing children's artwork. It's simple and it's innocent."
The four card designs are sold separately in boxes of 20 for $15. Each card includes patient artwork on the front and a holiday message inside. (For more information, call (714) 532-8692. The cards can also be ordered by writing to the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation, P.O. Box 1076, Orange, Calif. 92668-0076. Shipping cost is $2 for up to five boxes, $3 for six or more.)
The four young artists' names appear with their artworks, along with their ages and diagnoses.
Lisa Page of Laguna Beach has leukemia and is now in protective isolation at CHOC recovering from a recent bone marrow transplant. Charles Kaupke of Irvine is home after receiving treatment at CHOC to shrink a benign but inoperable tumor.
Krystle and Debby were treated at CHOC for cancerous tumors.
Both girls are now doing well after radiation and chemotherapy treatments and bone marrow transplants. Krystle, a Santa Ana resident, had her transplant more than three years ago, and Debby's was performed more than two years ago.
Bone marrow, which manufactures red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets, is a vital part of the body's immune system. A transplant may be done for several reasons.
In the cases of Debby and Krystle, the transplants were done "to allow us to give very high doses of chemotherapy and full body radiation to kill any remaining tumor cells that had been left after we had induced a remission with conventional forms of therapy," says Cairo.
He says that those high doses of radiation and chemotherapy "could be lethal without reinfusion of either their own bone marrow or somebody else's bone marrow."
The children whose artwork appears on the cancer research foundation's Christmas cards are among many who have benefited from the work of the Pediatric Cancer Research Laboratory, according to Cairo. The laboratory staff studies methods for improving pediatric cancer treatment and reducing side effects.
CHOC is the only Orange County hospital capable of performing pediatric bone marrow transplants, Cairo says, and techniques developed there have helped improve survival rates.
Thirty transplants have been done at the hospital in a little less than four years, and the current survival rate is more than 70%, according to Cairo. Comparing this with other hospitals' success rates is difficult, he says, because of varying factors such as the types of diseases being treated, the stage of the disease and the condition of patients at the time of the transplant. But, he says, "the general consensus is the average survival rate post-transplant is anywhere between 40% and 50%."
Debby and Krystle, Cairo says, would have had about a 10% survival rate with basic therapy. But their bone marrow transplants increased their chances to 50% or greater. And now, he says, both patients are beyond the period of highest risk that their tumors will return.
"She's come through so much and is doing so great," says Debby's mother, Gerry Jennings. "Each year odds are much better. That's how we're looking at it, very optimistic. And it definitely would not be this way had she not had the transplant."