In the race against cancer, every kid needs a pit crew. See how Levine Children’s is keeping kids with cancer on track, thanks to a huge gift from NASCAR champ Martin Truex Jr. and Sherry Pollex.

News, Child Health | 4 months ago

For Children with Cancer, Levine Children's Provides Them Their Own Pit Crew

Helping children overcome cancer means treating their minds and spirits as well as their bodies. See how a transformational gift from NASCAR champ Martin Truex Jr. and his longtime partner, Sherry Pollex, is giving kids with cancer at Levine Children's the comprehensive support they need. 

If you think of childhood cancer as a long, twist-filled race, then the kids battling this disease at Levine Children’s just got a huge boost from a champion NASCAR driver.

Thanks to a transformational gift from Martin Truex Jr. and Sherry Pollex, businesswoman, cancer advocate and Martin’s longtime partner, Levine Children’s will now be able to significantly expand its supportive oncology program. Supportive oncology is designed to treat the whole child, taking care of their emotional and psychological – as well as their physical – needs.

At Levine Children’s, this means providing dietitians who make sure kids are eating foods that will help them heal. Psychologists are available to help them overcome anxiety, and art therapists help them focus on creativity rather than their illness. Levine Children’s also offers Reiki, a spiritual healing therapy that can reduce stress and soothe young bodies. 

While supportive services have been offered for several years, Levine Children’s created a formal, more comprehensive program in February – the only one of its kind for pediatric patients in Charlotte.

“Treating cancer is so much more than just giving a patient chemotherapy and controlling their nausea,” says Jennifer Pope, MD, director of supportive medicine at Levine Children’s. “Kids are supposed to be playing. They’re supposed to be in school. We need to honor all of those parts that make up a child.” 

The program currently serves hundreds of patients with cancer, sickle cell disease or bone marrow transplants – all the way from infants to young adults as old as 30. 

Now with this generous gift, Dr. Pope plans to use the extra funding in the short term to hire a massage therapist and grow the music therapy offerings. She is also looking to make some changes to the clinic’s physical space, adding bright colors and splashes of nature to make the environment more relaxing. Starting next year, in her role as director of the program, Dr. Pope will be working full-time on developing these services and offering integrative medicine consults. 

Fostering calm and conversation 

The current supportive oncology offerings plus the new services contribute to helping children in the hospital maintain a sense of calm. “Even though a child may not look anxious on the outside, they’re probably pretty worried about all of the changes that are happening to them, both physically and to their routine,” says Dr. Pope. 

While patients’ families have requested these services, the main reason Levine Children’s offers supportive care is because research has shown time and again that it helps patients do better. “Patients stay out of the hospital more. They spend more nights at home in their bed, where they’re supposed to be. They have less side effects. They need less medicine,” says Dr. Pope.

Currently, the supportive care program is spearheading three initiatives at Levine Children’s Hospital: helping improve patients’ sleep by imposing a “quiet” period from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., promoting physical activity from diagnosis all the way through survivorship and opening up conversations between patients and providers.

This third initiative is so important, according to Dr. Pope, because most patients expect to talk only about their chemotherapy and imaging when they see their oncologist. “We want to make sure that patients understand that we want to talk about the whole child. How are they feeling? How are they sleeping? How are they eating?” says Dr. Pope. “We remind patients every time they’re here that no matter what they want to talk about, we’re ready to support them.”

A gift that drives our communities forward

Since 2011, Martin and Sherry have been the ones ready to support Levine Children’s and its cancer patients and families when they established the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation Pediatric Special Needs Fund. In the years since, Martin and Sherry have contributed more than $1.3 million to several cancer programs throughout Atrium Health.

“We are fortunate to be in the position to give back,” says Martin. “And we are humbled by the support we receive from this community and fans from across the country. Together, we’re ensuring that valuable scientific research and proven treatments stay on track.” 

Dr. Pope is equally humbled, grateful for what these gifts can do for the families she serves. 

“I am so grateful for their partnership,” says Dr. Pope. “When people in the community want to help children they don’t even know, it is profoundly moving.”