At Perfecting the Magic, we’re inspired by the dedication of Disney creators every day. When we stumbled upon The Princess Program on TikTok, we were moved beyond words.
The organization, committed to entertaining children facing childhood cancer, brings magic to families enduring the unimaginable. Join PTM in learning more about their exceptional work through our exclusive interview.
Hi Alyssa! Thank you for taking the time to connect with Perfecting the Magic. What inspired you to create The Princess Program?
I always knew I wanted to work with children battling serious illnesses. I just thought that meant as a nurse. While in school, I went on a trip to a camp where children were battling cancer; when I played mini golf with a little girl, she looked up at me with huge sad eyes and said, “I’ll never get to go to Disney.”
My entire world flipped upside down. It stuck with me. I kept repeating that moment in my head. Later that week, we were getting the children ready for a talent show, and it hit me [when I] looked at all the princess ball gowns. I had to find a way to bring the magic of Disney to them.
What’s the best part of what you do?
A lot of the characters will tell you the best part of what we do is seeing the smile on the child’s face. [For me] this is the second-best part of what we do. Seeing the relief on the parent’s faces as they watch their child have a few pain-free moments is the best part.
Kids are incredibly resilient and [have a limited] understanding of what’s going on; however, the parents know everything. The parents are the ones who stay up all night researching statistics; they’re the ones who have to hold their child down to get more “ouchies.” They’re the ones who will have to learn how to go on living if their child passes. Seeing parents’ faces show a glimpse of relief is the best part of what we do. They are fighting just as hard as their child is.
How do you manage to stay composed when meeting with children in pain?
This is by far the most challenging part of the job. Sometimes the children we see are beyond happy, and you wouldn’t even know they are sick. Other times, they’re holding a blanket in front of their face, so you can’t see their tears, and you can hear their whimpers.
That’s when our characters have to remind themselves how they would react to that with only a fantasy world knowledge of what’s going on. One of our volunteers is famous for saying, “I don’t want to add ‘made a princess cry’ to their list” [of worries]. We pretend for their sake. We’re there to bring magic and joy.
We cry afterward. TikTok has been an excellent outlet for that. At first, we were afraid to seem insincere by crying. But, tears usually happen live during the call. You have to let it out.
You’re in the medical field. How does your profession impact your work with The Princess Program?
I’m studying nursing at UMASS Boston. In our classes, we’re taught therapeutic ways of communicating with patients. I think this is the most significant component I’ve brought to the Princess Program. We’re taught to encourage patients to express their feelings. It’s not about understanding what they are going through. The truth is we’ll never fully understand.
Instead, it’s about being an outlet for them to express how they’re feeling. Being an outlet [for parents] via text and social media is part of the job.
How can volunteers get involved with your organization?
We’re hosting volunteer character workshops coming up very soon. To virtually volunteer, [applicants] need to have their own costumes and backdrops for Zoom meetings. We provide costumes, a dressing room, and anything else they may need for local volunteers. [Interested applicants] can go to our website and fill out a quick form to get involved.
Have you ever been surprised by something a child has said? Do you have any stories you’d like to share?
A snow princess was [on Zoom] with a child for her birthday. When the princess noted that she liked the child’s unicorn headband, she replied, “yeah, well, I’m actually a chemo girl.” I know it took the princess by surprise because of how her face changed when she said it. When the child ran off to get her favorite toy to show the princess, she had time to let a few tears slip. This is by far the hardest encounter we’ve had to date.
When the tower princess talked with a child about gaming consoles, he said, “I also have a brain tumor” out of nowhere. The princess asked him what that meant, and he explained it to her, [which informed] the audience. A 9-year-old educating a princess about brain tumors surprised us all.
How do you and your fellow princesses manage the emotional impact of your work?
I wish I could say I knew the answer to this. I wish I could tell you we practice self-care and read books about grief and loss. We do, but none of it helps. The emotional impact is soul-crushing.
One minute you’re watching a child play in the park with you running around; the next they are placed on hospice. We lean on each other. We call one another and talk through tears about how unfair it is, how awful it is, and how we wish we could do more. We haven’t found the [ideal] way to cope yet, but leaning on one another helps.
What has the Princess Program taught you about life?
The Princess Program has taught me that life is unfair. I know how depressing that sounds, but there is no fairness [in a] family losing their only child and having to go on living without them.
There is no fairness in a child sitting in a hospital bed instead of going outside with their friends to ride their bike. What they are going through is unfair. It’s taught me not to waste a single second. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. We have to make the most of today.
What do you wish people knew about childhood cancer?
I wish people knew that childhood cancer isn’t rare. I was blind to the fact that childhood cancer existed before creating The Princess Program. I was [unaware] of the number of children suffering. Only 4% of government funding is given to childhood cancer.
I wish people saw these families and realized that they are worth so much more than 4%. These kids are fighting for their lives and [going unseen]. If people knew what these kids were fighting for, maybe they’d have a better chance.
Can you share how people can get involved with and donate to The Princess Program?
Any way to get involved can be found on our website. Parents and families can sign up for calls there, volunteers can fill out forms there, and donations can be made there. More information can be found on: www.princessprogram.foundation
We’re so grateful to have learned more about your work. Can you share your favorite Princess Program memory with us to close out our interview?
Absolutely! My favorite memory [was when a] child was Face Timing a princess and appeared [on screen] smiling and jumping up and down. The first words out of her mouth were, “it’s all gone.” Followed by “no more tubies.” She was so excited to tell her favorite princess that she got her [feeding] tube removed. This was a special memory all around.
We’re thankful for the special memories that The Princess Program brings to children and families struggling with childhood cancer. You can learn more about their work here, and we recommend checking out their videos on TikTok.
We’re grateful for the difference they make, and we hope their work has inspired you to make the most of every day. Please consider getting involved with their outstanding organization.