For most teenagers, prom is one of their best high school memories. Unfortunately, teens being treated for cancer often are forced to miss out on such memorable events.
But on a glitzy and glamorous night in April, MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital became a place where not only lives are saved, but lasting memories are made when it hosted a Great Gatsby themed “Prom Party Palooza” for teen cancer patients and their families.
For 18-year old David Olazaba, a two-time Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, the event was the chance to have the prom he’s always envisioned, with plenty of friends, fun, food and dancing. Olazaba, who was first diagnosed at age 9, missed a lot of school when he was going through treatment and eventually had to press pause on high school during his junior year.
Though he finished school, receiving his GED last December, Olazaba hadn’t experienced a real prom.
“I was disappointed that I was not able to attend prom with my high school friends, but the prom at MD Anderson made up for that,” he says.
Teens were able to choose from more than 300 dresses donated by the local community and businesses. Al’s Formal Wear donated the tuxedos and provided alterations and fittings for the dresses and tuxedos. On prom day, patients and their families made jewelry to wear at Kendra Scott’s Color Bar, and Pageboy provided hair styling and manicures for the special occasion.
The main event took place on the 24th-floor observation deck atop the Albert B. and Margaret M. Alkek Hospital, which offers views of downtown Houston’s skyline to the north. DJs Johnny “JKB” Nguyen and John “Johnny Mac” McLaughlin provided the soundtrack.
The whole thing was the brainchild of Thomas Nguyen, co-owner of Houston-based restaurant Peli Peli.
“We’ve always wanted to do something special for young cancer patients,” says Nguyen. “I am grateful for the local businesses, restaurants and community that worked with me and MD Anderson to make this happen for the kids.”
News anchor Lily Jang from CBS affiliate KHOU kicked off the celebration with a $10,000 check presentation from event co-sponsor Marine Foods Express, a family-owned seafood distributor.
“It was a breathtaking experience,” says Olazaba. “The prom gave us some time to escape the real world and just have fun.”