BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. – It's one of the countless crushing challenges of battling childhood cancer -- many of the places and activities children used to enjoy are now off limits. But one local museum is trying to change that.
The Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., is home to a towering T-rex, countless hands-on exhibits and a very popular planetarium. On a typical day, it's filled with chattering children racing from display to display. But a few days a year, in partnership with Kids Kicking Cancer, the museum closes its doors to the public to welcome families whose children are undergoing treatment for cancer or recently completed it.
The Kranson family from Madison Heights is among those taking part in the "Cranbrook Cares" Free Day at the Museum. Their son Noah is four years old. Their daughter Claire is two.
"Noah was diagnosed at the end of August with acute lymphoplastic leukemia, or commonly referred to as ALL. He is on a three and a half year treatment plan," said Noah's mom Kelly Kranson.
For children undergoing cancer treatment, ordinary germs can cause potentially life-threatening infections. That means families like the Kransons are forced to limit outings and avoid crowds.
"It's terrifying taking them out," said Kelly Kranson. "It's always benefits vs risk."
But not today. Throughout the night, professional cleaning crews worked to disinfect every touchable surface at the museum. Staff, volunteers and attendees at this event must be healthy to reduce the risk for these very important guests.
Cranbrook Institute of Science director Michael Stafford with his son Joshua, whose leukemia fight inspired Cranbrook Cares.
"We could go out and not have to wear a mask and be scared of what was going to happen," said Kranson.
Museum director Michael Stafford is the driving force behind the program.
"The ability to close and have a day for an audience that needs it most is something that is very near and dear to my heart and near and dear to Cranbrook's heart," said Stafford.
Stafford himself is a leukemia survivor, but it was his oldest son Joshua's battle with the disease that inspired him.
"I remember the days when Joshua was in cancer treatments undergoing chemo when we lived pretty much like hermits," said Stafford.
The reaction from families has been overwhelming.
"It's really an amazing feeling to think that this museum has closed down for the day, spent all this money cleaning, it just makes you feel like someone remembers you," said Cathy Rupert of Rochester.
Ellie Rupert showing cancer who's boss.
Rupert's 5-year-old daughter Ellie was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma a year and a half ago. She's been in remission since July.
"It's a really strange thing not being able to do things together as a family, so this is something that we were really able to look forward too," said Rupert.
And for Ellie's 9-year-old brother Carter:
"It makes me really happy. I mean she's been through quite a few things with treatment, and I'm glad to see her go running around," said Carter Rupert. "It's a really cool place. I haven't been to many museums, so I really like this one."
There's also the relief of knowing, everyone here understands.
"You're not getting that extra glance or that extra look, and that they truly understand what you're going through," said Larry Kranson, Noah's dad. "Being around other families that are in the same boat as us puts us at ease and makes us feel like any other family."
Cranbrook also provides appropriate lunches and snacks and will even help with transportation if needed. They hope to inspire other museums, zoos and galleries to offer similar programs.
"I believe all institutions that engage kids and engage families where they learn together could be doing this," said Stafford. "This is the end of our second year, and we have hopes of making this a permanent program."
Noah Kranson with his sister and cousin enjoying the Cranbrook Cares Halloween event.
"I just think it would be an amazing thing to bring this to other museums throughout the country," said Cathy Rupert. "There's a great need for it."
"Cranbrook Cares" is funded with grants from the Carls Foundation, the Beaumont Foundation and the DMC Foundation, along with an annual fundraising event. Donations are also being sought to bring the program to even more children. To donate, click here.
The next Free Day at the Museum for children fighting cancer is Sunday, May 3rd. Families are encouraged to pre-register. For details, click here.
A summer camp is also planned for June 17 - 19. For information about these events or to register, contact Cindy Cohen by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 248-864-8238 x119.
To visit the Cranbrook Institute of Science website, click here.