It is hard to imagine what it must be like for a child to undergo cancer treatment, but close to 300,000 children worldwide face that incomprehensible reality every year.
Rosanna Bernstein of Surfside, Florida, has a rather good idea of what those children endure, which is why she is trying to ease their burden. Healthy and in remission from leukemia since 2000, she has created Bee Brave Buddies, 18-inch-tall, long-legged dolls that represent superheroes and help children in their struggle against cancer.
“I was very ill for about three years, but then I was enrolled in a clinical trial at Sylvester, and the drug saved my life. It was then I knew I had to give back,” remembers Bernstein. “As a child, I adored drawing and making fanciful outfits for my dolls, so it was just natural that I would want to do something similar for kids.”
She combined her love for fabric and design and created the three original Bee Brave Buddies dolls: Buddy Brave, a superhero doll for boys who is rumored to have magical powers; his twin sister, Bestie Brave, a superhero doll for girls, who is a true, new best friend; and Catie Cuddles, a doll dressed in fancy lace who loves to cuddle and snuggle.
One of the first entities to receive the dolls was Alex’s Place at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, a part of UHealth – University of Miami Health System. Since then, the dolls have been delivered to hospitals and outpatient chemotherapy centers around the world. They are designed as a gentle tool to educate the children about what they can expect from their treatments — including losing their hair, which is why all the dolls are bald. They also come in different skin tones.
Donated Dolls Remind Patients of Their Own Bravery
Earlier this month, Alex’s Place, the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Holtz Children’s Hospital, part of the Jackson Health System, received a new delivery of close to 50 new dolls. Bee Brave Buddies, a nonprofit group, is able to donate the dolls free of charge, thanks to donations from the community.
“We identify a child who is age appropriate to reward them with one of these dolls on a day when they’ve had either a difficult procedure or just a hard visit,” explains Leslie Hutchins, a child life specialist at Alex’s Place. “They love getting prizes, and these superhero dolls remind them that they were brave, and they feel like a hero themselves. What Rosanna does makes a big difference to the children.”
Beth Behr, a child life supervisor at Holtz, echoes that sentiment for her kids. “We provide them to the youngsters who need comfort, and the dolls encourage them to be strong, strive to be their best and to truly believe they can make it through their treatment,” she said.
Bernstein is currently working on a book about the adventures of the Bee Brave Buddies that is due out later this year. She says one of the best compliments she received was when the mother of a young cancer patient told her how much her daughter loved her doll, saying “not all medicine comes in a bottle.”
To learn more about philanthropic opportunities at Sylvester or the Miller School, email Marcus Anderson, senior director of development.