Cancer survivor brings joy to pediatric oncology patients

For years, Eileen Sparks enjoyed making doll clothes for her granddaughter and family friends, and after her own battle with cancer, she found a new way to share her talent with some very deserving young patients at the N.C. Cancer Hospital.

Cancer survivor brings joy to pediatric oncology patients click to enlarge Eileen Sparks (right) poses alongside a staff member at the Patient and Family Resource Center.
Cancer survivor brings joy to pediatric oncology patients click to enlarge Billie Rae Twiggs poses with her new doll.

Sparks, a retired librarian and professor, relocated from Michigan to North Carolina in 2016, and just a few short months later was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

While undergoing radiation treatment at the N.C. Cancer Hospital, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center’s clinical home, she saw several young children also being treated for cancer. 

“I knew how I felt, as an adult, going through treatment and I could not imagine how a child copes with it all,” said Sparks. 

She found sewing doll clothes to be a form of therapy after long days at the hospital, but she didn’t know any young girls in the area with whom she could share her handiwork.  

After attending a Cancer Transitions Class at the UNC Wellness Center, she chatted with a staff member of the cancer hospital’s Patient and Family Resource Center and learned that many of the young patients she saw receiving treatment often have to be at the hospital for extended periods of time, including over the holidays.

As luck would have it, she was told that dolls are popular with the patients and often donated by individuals and groups in December, and this gave Sparks a wonderful idea. She purchased several Our Generation dolls, making sure to select dolls from a variety of racial and ethnic groups, and brought them to the Patient and Family Resource Center with several outfits, lovingly made by hand. 

“These dolls with their wardrobes are a small way for me to give back to UNC for all the great care I received,” said Sparks. 

And young cancer patients like four-year-old Billie Rae Twiggs are grateful Sparks decided to give back.

“She was very excited to get the doll,” said her mother, Kelley Newman, who accompanied her daughter to the Patient and Family Resource Center to pick out her very own doll and several stylish outfits. 

Sparks plans to continue sewing and has expanded her repertoire to include chemotherapy caps and headscarves for both men and women.

“As long as I’m able, I’ll keep donating,” Sparks said.