Olympics return to Atlanta with a twist

By Lynne Anderson | Aug. 10, 2012

During the weeks of the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games, staff at Emory University Hospital are competing in the "Oncology Olympics."

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Olympic heroes shine in different sports, but probably few have had as much fun in as the "Oncology Olympics" athletes have had this week on the bone marrow transplant unit at Emory University Hospital. 

The idea of Amelia Langston, who treats leukemia as a medical oncologist at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, the "Oncology Olympics" began Sunday, July 29. They will continue through Aug. 10. Langston started the games four years ago as a way to bring some fun to the 24 patients undergoing bone marrow transplants at Emory University Hospital. Most of the patients are hospitalized for weeks at a time.

"The staff here is wonderful," say Joseph Alexander, a patient in the 8E wing. "They almost make you forget why you’re here. I knew I made the right choice when I came to Winship for treatment, but I never expected this kind of hospitality. "

Langston, who this year donned a fetching pocketbook, regal blue dress and plastic tiara to portray Queen Elizabeth II in Opening Ceremonies, explains that the "Oncology Olympics" games provide a way also to keep spirits up among the patients and staff.

And there has been plenty of fun. The unit has its own BMT flag, centerpieced by a bone. In addition, a string of flags from different nations decorates the units. American flags are plentiful. Each day since the games opened, 8E, as the unit is called, has organized a different competition at 4 p.m. The first day, there was the saline bag toss. The next day, a wheelchair race (physicians, nurses and staff only for that). Then there was a competition to pass a balloon down a line of people, without the people using their hands or arms.

The competition that has drawn the most medalists and spectators so far, however, was the hula-hoop competition. It attracted patient family members, nurses, pharmacists and doctors, including Thomas Heffner, an associate professor of hematology and oncology. Heffner said he hadn't hula hooped "since he was 10." He didn’t say how long ago that was, but he does have a few strands of hair that give him a dignified look.

"Cancer can do a lot of bad things, and we see that every day," Langston said. "We want to be able to have fun when we can and celebrate when things are going well."