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Glitz and glamour transform patients during children's hospital oncology prom

Glitz and glamour took over the Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) on June 27 for the hospital's 14th annual Oncology Prom.
/ Source: TODAY

Twinkle lights, a chandelier, casino tables decked the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) on June 27. The reason for the glitz and glamour — the hospital’s 14th annual Oncology Prom.

“We host the event in our cancer clinic in our outpatient infusion so it’s our goal to completely transform that place,” said Kara Noskoff, a child life specialist at CHOC. “It’s a fun surprise for them to see that space that they come to sometimes on a daily or weekly basis and to be able to completely transform it for them.”

Dominic Aberl, 16, CHOC patient, and his date, Lisa Lewis, 17, a guest, walk through a hallway to enter the prom event during the 14th annual CHOC Children's Oncology Prom on Saturday evening.Ed Crisostomo / Orange County Register

More than 250 people, a combination of past and present patients and their guests, came to the prom this year. One of the attendees was Alfredo “Freddy” Morales, 21, who said that although he went to his own high school prom, the CHOC prom was more fun, and that he wished he had gone to some of the past proms.

“It was an environment of all these people caring for you and not talking about the bad days,” he described. “It just gets everyone’s minds off of things. At the time, I was not thinking about the appointments I have today or tomorrow, I was just thinking about right there, right now and enjoying company with other patients.”

Child life specialists Kara Noskoff, left, and Karly Allen pose with Alfredo Morales at his Gatsby-themed prom hosted by the Children's Hospital of Orange County.Courtesy of Angie Gamez

The prom is a safe and fun place for the patients because of shared experiences among the attendees. Noskoff said the dance is full of people that “walked that same walk and went through the journey with them.” Even having the nurses and doctors there smiling and laughing made the night that much more special.

“A lot of our doctors came and it was neat to see,” Noskoff explained. “Our patients would grab their friends and grab a doctor and say, ‘this is the man that saved my life.’ It’s a joy for the doctors to see our patients doing well and having a good time.”

Ruben Olivera, center, 20, CHOC patient, dances to the music "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix A Lot, with Kara Noskoff, right, staff, during the 14th annual CHOC Children's Oncology Prom on Saturday evening.Ed Crisostomo / Orange County Register

The festivities started off with a pre-prom “primp” event from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., with guest appearances from Kristen Bell and her “glam squad,” as well as former "The Hills" star Whitney Port. And besides getting their hair, makeup and nails done, the girls also picked out the perfect dress for the evening, courtesy of donations from BCBG.

“We see them sick and not feeling well and a lot of them have lost their hair or lost weight or gained weight, so to see them all glammed up was fun for our staff and for them and for their parents,” Noskoff pointed out. “It means a lot to see them happy and feeling good. There were a lot of tears.”

Jeniffer Cuaya, 20, former CHOC patient, gets her make up done by Jeremy Heinlein, makeup artist, before the start of the 14th annual CHOC Children's Oncology Prom on Saturday evening.Ed Crisostomo / Orange County Register

Jeniffer Cuaya, 20, attended prom for the second time this year. With a new prosthetic, she danced the night away with her friends.

“Last year, I was still going through chemotherapy, so I didn’t have as much energy, so I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I did this year,” Cuaya said. “I had my prosthetic, I just got it in February, and so I was able to dance more. This year it was twice as fun.”

After the 14th annual CHOC Children's Oncology Prom, Diego Alcala, from left, 20, CHOC patient, his date Jeniffer Cuaya, 20, former CHOC patient, and their guests Cindy Pizana, 21, Guillermo Lee, 21, and Leslie Ascencio, 16, give each other high five.Ed Crisostomo / Orange County Register

The night was filled with joy and even some surprises. Noskoff said that about 20 celebrities, including Zac Efron, Lady Antebellum and Julianne Hough, sent in encouraging messages and wished the patients a wonderful prom. After months of planning by the staff, everything came together to create a magical night.

“Just hearing their screams as each new celebrity came on was just so special,” she reminisced. “The kids are all so near and dear to my heart, so I would give the world to them. I’m just in awe of them and how resilient they are and yeah, I’m just really proud of our patients.”

Check out more photos from CHOC prom here!