WARNER ROBINS -- For 11-year-old Holly Slavin, it was a love of sharks that helped her endure cancer treatments. As she underwent procedures for a muscle tumor, Holly would study sharks and watch television shows dedicated to the creatures.
Now, the Macon girl is on her way to the sixth grade and plans to one day become a marine biologist. On Monday, Holly mingled with dozens of other childhood cancer survivors at the Jays HOPE Back-to-School Bash.
The Macon-based organization gave away school supplies to children with cancer and their siblings, as well as an evening of free food and entertainment. Children packed Johnny Gs Fun Center in Warner Robins. Some wore bandages. Some had lost their hair during cancer treatments. Some used crutches.
But for a couple hours, they giggled, hugged, raced from game to game, leaped onto rides and munched pizza. For a couple hours, they were not cancer patients, but just average children.
God wouldnt put you through something you couldnt handle, Holly said, as she stepped away from a flashing game.
Workers at the entertainment center specially sanitized the building, so children with weak immune systems would have the chance to attend the private, back-to-school party. Its the second year Jays HOPE has hosted the event for childhood cancer patients and their families. Volunteers handed out more than 120 backpacks filled with school supplies to about 50 families.
So many of our families struggle financially while theyre going through treatments, said Cindy Gaskins, founder of Jays HOPE.
Many families have trouble affording medicine for their children and transportation to and from the hospital -- not to mention school supplies. Some have been forced to quit jobs to care for their children, and many simply do not have the time to purchase school gear, Gaskins said.
A mother of six children, Antoria Tucker knows how hectic the new school year can be -- especially when caring for a sick child. Tuckers 6-year-old daughter, Jazmine, was diagnosed with leukemia in November. She is now in remission.
This means so much, said Tucker, of Macon. Its pretty rough at times. This takes a little bit of stress off the whole situation.
On average, three children are diagnosed with cancer each month in Middle Georgia, Gaskins said. Jays HOPE tries to help as much as possible.
The organization assists those families, offering financial, educational, spiritual and social support. It hosts an event each month, where families can gather and support one another.
While families were grateful for the free school supplies, the event itself was uplifting, they said.
It makes him feel like hes not alone, Brittany Blake said of her son, Nolan. This takes his mind off everything else.
Nolan, a 10-year-old from Griffin, has been fighting brain cancer for nearly four years. He loves to color -- his favorite color is green -- and his favorite school subject is math.
With a big grin and a sparkle in his eyes, the boy was most excited to play air hockey during the back-to-school party.
Nearby, Holly grasped a bundle of prize tickets, but she was not planning to cash all of them in for a toy. Instead, the 11-year-old divided them between her siblings and friends.
After all, she knows what they are going through.
There are a lot of kids dying at this very minute, she said. And Im very lucky.
To volunteer or make a donation to Jays HOPE, visit www.jayshope.org.