During the most difficult days of chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries to treat cancer, something as small as a picture book or a new novel can put a smile on a child’s face.
Amber Bullock remembers. She knows how exciting it was when the book cart came around the cancer ward at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis.
When she was diagnosed with a rare cancer as an infant, she became a regular patient at the hospital. Her mother would read to her to ease her pain and discomfort.
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“My mom always tells me about how the book cart would come around, and that would help. Riley did so much for me, and I wanted to give something back to them,” she said.
To help current and future patients at Riley, Bullock helped collect more than 700 books this summer for its lending library. The novels, picture books, young-adult fantasy stories and other items will entertain kids with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.
Seventeen years has passed since the Greenwood resident finished treatment for a neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system. But the impact that the experience had is still fresh in her mind, and she wanted to make sure the next sick little boy or girl gets the same benefit.
“I’m really thankful for everyone who donated, and I hope everyone likes it,” Bullock said. “I didn’t do this to get attention. I knew that it helped me, and I wanted to help other people.”
The Edward A. Block Family Library is on the first floor of Riley Hospital. The library boasts more than 3,500 books, 1,400 movies and nearly 300 music CDs. Patients at the hospital can check anything out they want, and mobile carts move from room to room to serve children who can’t leave their beds.
Bullock’s donation infused the library with a needed dose of new materials, as well as expanding the selection of reading choices for older kids and teenagers.
“We always need books for the library. We’ve had the carts going through the hospital, and right now, we don’t have very many. Any time we get a donation, it’s huge for us,” librarian Dena Vincent said.
The initial idea was to tie in the book drive with her graduation party. When Bullock, 18, graduated from Greenwood Community High School in May, she requested that guests to her open house bring a gently used book for her to donate to Riley.
Helped by the book cart
But as her family members learned more about it, they wanted to help. Her mother and stepfather took boxes to work and collected items from their friends. Soon, they had rooms full of boxes of books. They cleaned up each one, made sure no pages were ripped and that the books were in good condition.“We wanted to do this right. We are really just so appreciative of Riley, for all that they’ve given her,” said Carry Crist, Bullock’s mother.Bullock was 8 months old when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma. The disease forms on nerve cells in an embryo or fetus, often in the abdomen.
She received treatment on and off at the hospital until she was 2. Though she was young, she remembers going up the hospital’s glass elevators and looking out over the open lobby.
“There used to be giraffes and fake animals. I used to love that. We’d ride up and down and up and down,” she said.
Treating the disease required months of chemotherapy, dozens of radiation sessions and surgeries to remove tumors in her abdomen. One procedure took 12 hours to complete. Another resulted in the removal of one of her kidneys.
During those seemingly endless stays in the hospital, the family found their salvation in the meager book cart that rotated past their room.
“The book cart came by every day. Amber was little, so we didn’t do as much of the games. But we read probably every book that was on that cart,” Crist said. “When you’re 8 months old and you’re on chemo and you’re hooked up to all of these things, reading books is a great way to spend your time.”
Even though she was deemed cancer-free in 1999, Bullock retained a close relationship with Riley. She had regular appointments and checkups at the hospital and still visits two of her doctors for monitoring every six months.
Bullock maintained a spirit of giving to the hospital.As a girl, she organized blood drives to indirectly benefit the hospital. She had received several blood transfusions when she was a patient and knew how important it was to have a good supply of blood on hand for kids who need it now.When she was 11, she put together a benefit concert. Her goal was to help fund Camp Quality, a summer camp experience for children with cancer. She ended up raising more than $1,700 for the camp.
“I had people sing, people dancing, playing instruments,” she said. “I felt like the camp was a place where everyone was equal, and no one was left out.”
Riley had more than an impact on Bullock; it also impacted her mother. After witnessing the way the nurses and staff at the hospital touched patients’ lives, Crist studied to be a nurse herself. She worked at Riley for a number of years before getting a job in the obstetrics department at Community Hospital South.
“Those nurses are like Wonder Women. My hat’s off to those people,” Crist said.
Bullock is a healthy young woman now. Though she only has one kidney, she feels good and remains cancer free.
She is working and preparing to start classes in January at Ivy Tech Community College. She plans to transfer to IUPUI once her core classes are finished. Her goal is to be an ultrasound technician.
“I always wanted to do something in the medical field. I get ultrasounds now, and I feel like I understand them,” she said. “That all comes from my time as a patient.”
Name: Amber Bullock
Education: 2015 graduate of Greenwood High School
Family: Mother, Carry Crist; and stepfather, David Crist