March 14, 2012

A Hospice Story: Kids Path Team Helps Family Add Life to the Days

James Runde was only three years old when he was diagnosed with a neuroblastoma, cancer of the nervous system. The doctors at Duke Children’s Hospital formulated an aggressive treatment plan which ultimately involved care at two additional hospitals, 14 rounds of chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, thirty-six days of radiation and numerous experimental treatments.

The doctors at Duke also knew James and his parents would need additional support back in their hometown of Greensboro. They made a referral to Kids Path for a social worker to offer play therapy, a type of counseling that provides a way for children to express their experiences and feelings through a natural, self-guided, self-healing process.

Like any child, James loved to play. He and Miss Kate (the affectionate name James chose for social worker, Kate Hubbard) found many interesting outlets for expressing feelings, especially those associated with the dramatic changes in his daily routine, the difficult medical procedures, and of course, the pain and discomfort of his disease.

In the second year of James’s illness, it became apparent that the cancer would not be held back. Miss Kate other members of the Kids Path care team increased visits and looked for ways to help James and his parents make the remaining months as meaningful as possible. “Regardless of age, everyone has wishes or goals they would like to achieve before death,” shared Miss Kate. “It’s very important to listen for clues.” For example some children would be thrilled to celebrate an “early birthday” or an early visit from Santa. Jim and Dawn Runde, James’ parents, decided that a n early visit from Santa might really be a hit. Miss Kate and the Rundes decided that they would tell James that Miss Kate knew Santa personally and would happily arrange a visit to the Runde home in the next few days.

When James heard this news, he paused thoughtfully and said, “I don’t much care about Santa visiting, but … does Miss Kate know Spider-Man!?” Hearing the wonder and the excitement in James’s voice, Kate knew what her answer had to be. “Well, yes, I do know Spider-Man,” said Miss Kate, “and I’ll contact him right away.” Lucky for Kate, her husband Zack was not only willing to wear the full Spider-Man costume, but being a young, physically fit police officer, he actually looked like Spider-Man.

James waited with anticipation for Spider-Man to arrive. During this special visit, James introduced Spider-Man to all his most special action figures, and Spider-Man even surprised James with gifts and a large photograph. James asked to be helped to the window so he could wave as Spider-Man got into Miss Kate’s car. His family reports that they will never forget the look of wonder on James’s face when Spider-Man stood up through the open sun roof and waved as the car drove away. Later James told his grandfather, “this was just the best day ever … even better than the roller coasters at Disney World!”

Five days later, on September 17, 2007, James died peacefully at home surrounded by his family. The Runde Family and the Kids Path team did a great job of helping James live fully, keep his routine normal, surrounding him with a lot of love and joy until his death.

“From the time James was diagnosed, we understood the seriousness of his condition,” explained Jim Runde, “but we were still committed to being hopeful. As we saw cure and remission slip away as possibilities, we still remained hopeful…hopeful that James would not suffer and hopeful that could laughter and play could be a part of every day.” Dawn remembered, “We lived each day fully – with faith as our foundation, we lived each day like it could be our last. But, we didn’t do that alone. We had support from family members, friends, our church community,

Kids Path and even Spider-Man. Together we helped James feel cherished … we helped him feel very special.” Dawn paused in reflection, “When you have a team of support like we had, anything is possible … even a visit from Spider-Man!”


Article originally published in February 2008 in Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro’s Newslines publication.