Cleveland Cavaliers star Anderson Varejao celebrates A Prom to Remember with cancer patient Zoey Kohler.(Photo: Zoey Kohler)
Over the course of just a few weeks, Zoey Kendall Kohler went from fighting for her life to dressing like a princess and partying at prom with Cleveland Cavaliers star Anderson Varejão.
Zoey Kendall Kohler — who has Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor (an aggressive and rare cancer that primarily occurs as masses in the stomach and surrounding areas) — was one of 166 teens and tweens with cancer who attended a special prom thrown just for them last weekend in Ohio.
“I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend this prom since just two weeks ago I was in the ICU,” Kohler tells Yahoo Parenting from her in-patient room at Akron Children’s Hospital, where she is currently receiving her 6th round of chemotherapy.
The 16-year-old — a Cavaliers fan — relished the opportunity to spend some time with Varejão. “I was kind of [feeling] sick when he first came upstairs to take pictures with all of the kids, so he ended up coming over to my table and sat and talked [to me] for a bit,” she says. “He was very tall and polite.”
(But perhaps the most fun part for Zoey was cutting lose from mom with her best friend Bri, whom she took as her guest. “It was cool doing what we wanted, like getting a fake tattoo. My mom is so against tattoos,” she jokes.)
Zoey and her mom. (Photo: Zoey Kohler)
Varejao wasn’t the only professional athlete on hand to cheer up the kids. His Cavalier teammates Matthew Dellavedova and Joe Harris also attended, as did Cleveland Browns wide receiver, Brian Hartline.
But even more than the famous guests, most of the kids were just excited to get dressed up and have a fun night at the Ritz Carlton in Cleveland. “Everyone made a fuss over me and told me how beautiful I looked. All the nurses were so excited to see me and told me I looked like a princess,” Kohler says.
The Wizard of Oz-themed event, thrown by an organization called A Prom to Remember, is 100 percent free to patients and their guests — including dresses, tux rentals, flowers, beauty services, limo rides, photography, venue, and door prizes. Parents — who are not invited — drop their kids off at the hospital where they’re normally treated, and then the kids are whisked away to the dance in limos. Nurses and doctors are on hand to make sure they’re well taken care of.
One teen, Jose, 19, especially inspired Ohio prom chair Jane Knausz, a portrait-studio owner who takes photos each year. After chemotherapy for his leukemia caused his bones to deteriorate, Jose had to undergo hip replacement surgery just three weeks before the event. But that didn’t stop Jose from hitting the dance floor with his walker.
Jose hits the dance floor. (Photo: Jane Knausz)
Deanna Lowe, 16, who has an eye cancer called Bilateral Retinoblastoma, jokes to Yahoo Parenting that it was awkward meeting Varejao because he’s so tall. But the teen, who lost her right eye and is currently being monitored for reoccurring tumors in her left eye at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, also notes her dress was lilac and Anderson’s tie was purple. “We matched!” she says.
She admits she was shy when Varejao told her she looked beautiful, but very excited when Miss Ohio complimented her dress on the dance floor.
Deanna Lowe and Anderson Varejao in their complementary outfits. (Photo: Lowe Family)
Everyone is allowed to bring a guest, whether a date, best friend, or sibling. Lowe chose to share the night with her younger sister, Sarah, 12. Deanna’s mom, Teresa Lowe, tells Yahoo Parenting that Sarah is developmentally delayed and her big sister wanted her to experience the fun night, too.
Deanna Lowe and her kid sister, Sarah, in matching purple gowns. (Photo: Lowe Family)
The night “was a dream come true,” says Lowe, who wears hearing aids due to damage sustained from chemotherapy, “and I can’t wait until next year.”
Danielle Griggs’s daughter Alli (R), best friend, Cailie Seale (L), and a very tall Anderson Varejao (center). Griggs, from Parma, Ohio, picked out her sparkly dress (with mom’s help) from the one more than 3,000 donated from local businesses. Griggs, a 16-year-old sophomore in high school, is currently in remission with brain cancer after an 11-hour surgery to remove a brain tumor and more than a year of radiation therapy. (Photo: Danielle Griggs)