On Tuesday, September 5th, 2023, Rippie, his wife Jolanda, Wendy and I (Toya) were allowed to visit KiKa in the Princess Maxima Center in Utrecht. We had agreed there to meet with a volunteer from KiKa to hand over a symbolic check with the amount from the CharitySL.nl event 2022 that we had raised together for KiKa and we would then receive more information and a tour from the Kika volunteer.
Yes, how do you go to there? It was quite exciting. Because what kind of information are you going to get? How will you be received and what does the Princess Máxima Center look like? Of course we know it from all the television images and perhaps from YouTube and Instagram. But yes, to experience it yourself is of course a completely different story.
We met in the parking garage and walked leisurely to the Princess Máxima Center. And the closer we got, the more nervous it became inside. The Princess Máxima Center is behind the Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital. And when you enter, it looks like a school. There is a lot of activity. People talk to each other and laugh, especially laugh a lot. That just stood out so much. And then the first child you see. Bald head, on crutches and as an extra an IV pole with at least 4 or 5 IV bags attached to it. And oh yeah, he’s missing a lower leg.
We registered and what I really liked at the counter, they have made a small staircase with children’s feet on it, so that the children can register themselves.
One of the great things about the Princess Máxima Center is that children are central, children are the boss. This is evident from so many things we have seen and heard. We went with the volunteer to a room that Kika rents from the Princess Maxima Center. It is actually a cozy sitting room with a kitchen. The door to the room is wide open so that anyone can walk in if they want and/or need to. There is a kind of stand with fruit for the children, they can come and pick up a piece of fruit that they can choose themselves.
There we were, the conversation flowing smoothly and without any charged silences that I had been quite afraid of. There were 3 bears on the table, the KiKa bears. The volunteer, with orange painted nails, is unfortunately an expert in childhood cancer. Her daughter was diagnosed with childhood cancer, which fortunately she survived and was “cured”. So she talked from her own experience, but also how she has seen things change in the Princess Maxima Center. And in the meantime, your gaze shifts to all kinds of things happening around you. Children and parents walking down the hallway. If your gaze is drawn outside, you will see a donated indoor playground. A kind of racing track and there are go-karts. And then you see those bald heads, but even more so you see children with brothers and sisters having so much fun there. You see them racing around that race track with those go-karts and then you think; How wonderful is this, not thinking about being sick for a moment.
The KiKa volunteer also said that KiKa and the Princess Maxima Center are not one organization but two very different ones. KiKa finances research into childhood cancer, which is requested by doctors who work at the Princess Maxima, among others. She also said that the Princess Maxima Center is not a hospital but a treatment center. Operations are performed in the Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital, among other places.
After we handed over the symbolic check, we were given a tour. We were just leaving the door and then we were stopped for a moment because a lady wanted to ask something and in the meantime a child walked by. And the volunteer asked the little man, “Have you eaten your banana?” Yes, he had already eaten it, he said, so the volunteers later told us that the little man came to get a banana every day. But the results he received from the moment he entered the Princess Máxima Center had not been good once. And then, you look at that little man who is walking there so happily, skipping, high-fiving everyone. And then, you think why? How is it possible with such a small person?
And then you walk further and less than 2 seconds later a small glass baby bed is wheeled into a ward with a mother walking next to it and a nurse who is telling things and both appear so calm. I recognize the bed, I have seen such beds with such small babies so many times when my daughter was just born. That baby may be up to two weeks old. So small. And it is in the Princess Maxima Center… Your heart breaks because you just can’t imagine it, so many questions that run through your head at that image. How is such a small person who still has to learn to live and experience survive? It still has to learn to talk, walk, go to school, build a life and so much more. How is such a little person supposed to overcome cancer? I can’t reach it with my hat, I really can’t. I just can’t believe it and yet I saw it and yet it happened. I was very quiet inside.
The tour continued and we walked to an outside garden. A special garden and there is a KiKa mosaic bear bench. There is a very large slide, there is a trampoline and in the back you will find a water fountain, you know those fountains that come out of the ground and that spray water up. There was a father playing with his son. The son on the IV also has about 5 to 6 bags of IV stuff. You know that it not only contains fluid, but that it will also contain chemo and other medication. A lot of chemical junk to get rid of the misery called cancer from his little body.
Ribbons were all drawn on the ground, including one from Bas Smit. Bas is an ambassador for the Princess Máxima Center and coincidentally had been there on Friday to sign ribbons with the children. The volunteer said that they had so much fun and that they often have water fights. And that the children who cannot go to the garden can still participate from their room, they are then given water balloons that they can throw down, and in the garden the children are given super soakers and syringes (without a needle of course) to squirt others. .
You can’t imagine it, and yet it happens. If you walk a little further into the garden, past the play items for the children, you suddenly find yourself in a piece of nature. As parents, you can clear your head for a while by taking a walk there. Or, if the children are feeling well, you can take the children for a short walk. But if you look out over this piece of nature you see an infinity and you don’t know where it leads. It’s all so double.
And if you didn’t see children standing there with bald heads on an IV. Then you can hardly imagine that you are in a very important treatment center.
We went back inside. The tour continued and we got to see the restaurant and part of the kitchen. The restaurant is a large restaurant but it has been renovated and is even larger. There is a greater need for a larger space where more people can eat, including parents. And in a corner of the open kitchen was the Peer&Poffer cart. At the Princess Maxima Center, the children can decide for themselves what they want to eat and they get it á la carte. They can decide for themselves what they want to eat, whether it is banana, fries, nasi or something else, you can’t imagine what the child likes.
You can imagine that when children are on chemo, they don’t have much appetite for anything. In this way they at least get food that they have a hand in deciding and that is very important to maintain their strength.
In the meantime, of course, you look around and you see all kinds of things.
We went to the elevators and a little boy went in with an IV with about 5 IV bags on that pole. He looked really, really tired. But he had done his job. And there was also a girl in a wheelchair, also with an IV, and they went up together with a nurse. And then the nurse asked them: “Shall we wait a while?” Then those people can get along with each other.”
And I said, “No, just stay put, we’ll take the next elevator.” The little man looked so very tired. You really wanted to take away all the misery written on his face. Put it on my shoulders so he could play.
And, it’s a good thing you can’t see it. That the tears are now flowing again. Just because of what you see there, it’s so unfair. They’re all way too young!
Wendy and I took the next elevator and a father came in with a hand cart. And that hand cart was loaded with suitcases. The father also had to go to the first floor, just like us. As he stood there, he let out a very deep sigh. And I said, “That’s a deep sigh.” He answered and his last words were: “But fortunately the worst seems to be over.” And then you think: This man sees his child going through all this misery. You don’t want to be in his shoes. In no way. And yet you would like to make life easier for them. That stays in your mind.
We also got a tour of the first floor. Of course we were not allowed everywhere, the patients, their privacy and world are much more important.
It was extremely busy on the two floors that we were allowed to visit. The children are treated there. It all passes for them.
There is a discovery corner and it is actually a kind of mini laboratory. Even with a tap that really works. There is a large microscope, the IV bags, a doll that has been half dissected. Yes, anything and everything to familiarize children with all kinds of things that could happen. This discovery place is especially for brothers and sisters of cancer patients. But of course also for the patient himself to receive information about what kinds of things will happen. A very beautiful place that they have put together there.
The laboratories cannot be viewed by us adults, at our heights everything is shuttered. But everything is visible for the children because nothing is blinded at their height.
We walked further in the other direction. There were recordings, so we couldn’t go all the way, but we could see the entrance and the outside of the music room that Armin van Buuren donated to the Princess Maxima Center.
There is also a corridor, a connection to the Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital. The sides of the corridor are all made of colored glass. That corridor is very important, because if operations need to be done, the children have to go to the Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital and they walk/drive through that corridor with all those colors. And in this way you make something heavy a little less heavy, even if it is for a while.
We were standing in that hallway and there came a little girl. And she pulled a suitcase behind her. She walked down that corridor from the Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital to the Princess Maxima Center. I said, “What a nice suitcase you have there.” “Yes,” she says, I said, “I see Miffy in it.” She continued chatting and walked resolutely with her parents laughing behind her. So open and so unapologetic. But with cancer.
And a girl who was scootering in that hallway. You had to watch where you were walking or you would be run over. But this girl is also battling cancer.
Knowing that all those children with a white band on their wrist have childhood cancer. That hurts, that hurts so incredibly much. I have deep respect for those parents, for those children and for the staff. For all those people who do their best to ensure that childhood cancer is eradicated.
I also asked why there are so many different types of foundations. Because I would think that guys, bundle everything together, then you are much stronger. KiKa’s volunteer explained why this is so. KiKa raises money for research into all types of childhood cancer. If someone wants to start a study, they must first request it and then it will be determined whether it is really wise to do that research and whether there is not already a study underway somewhere else into the same type of cancer at the time they submitted the application.
Look at neuroblastoma, for example. We say very politely that 81% of children recover, but 19% do not make it to their birthday. However, of the group of children who develop neuroblastoma, more than 40% die. That is why, for example, there is a separate foundation for this, to specifically raise the money for that particular type of cancer. The money that the foundation raises does not go to research into other types of childhood cancer. Of course they keep in touch with each other. So that no duplicate research is done, but progress can be made together in that specific research.
It is therefore extremely important to ensure that enough money comes in so that enough research can be done into all those different forms of childhood cancer, so that ultimately all these forms of childhood cancer are eradicated and that children are all cured.
There is also no talk about healing but about clean, and the longer you are clean the more chance you have that cancer will stay away. Unfortunately, children who have had cancer have a greater chance of getting it again.
You are clean, but you are not healed.
That is why it is so important to continue with all these tests, so that you can really suppress cancer. There is also a Later Poli, which we also talked about in the previous event. The Later Poli is actually a kind of follow-up. You are not obliged to participate, but if you have had childhood cancer they would like to be able to monitor you. Then they monitor and discuss the effects it all had. What are you having trouble with? Do you have difficulty reading? Do you have difficulty with social contacts?
And there is so much more. It’s just incomprehensible. After all 3 of us had bought a KiKa bear, because yes, of course we have to continue to support KiKa, I said, “All 3 of us have to write down our own feelings.” But all those feelings, I couldn’t find the words for them. I can tell it now. But we are now a few days further. When I think back, I think respect. Then I think Unbelief its bizarre. How is this possible. Why? How? And then, I think: “This has to be better, we have to get it done. We must be able to kick childhood cancer out of the world together, all of us.”
So yes, I am extremely extra motivated. I didn’t know I could get more motivated but it really happened. Our event is coming up and we will start on November 22 and then we will have a blast again. Together we will raise a nice amount again. Which we can also bring back to KiKa. So that we can help heal children again, let them heal and give them a chance at a good life. Not a star in the sky. But just being able to see the stars down here on earth.
~Toya, Ceo CharitySL.nl ~