Bringing Smiles to Children with Cancer

A Foundation's Generous Donations Help Children and Their Families Cope During Difficult Times

The pediatric hematology-oncology treatment room at The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital (BMSCH) at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital needed a face-lift.

“It wasn’t as kid-friendly as it could be,” recalls Tammy Catherwood, who runs the Amanda Styles Cirelli Foundation, which aims to bring a smile to children with cancer. So when the hospital’s Child Life team mentioned that their No. 1 priority was to redesign the treatment room, Tammy didn’t hesitate to offer $55,000 in funding for it.

The new hematology-oncology treatment room at The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital

Today, the room is colorful and features lights on the ceiling. The color of the lights can be changed, and they can be dimmed for a more soothing environment.There are no cabinets or open shelves; the medical equipment is tucked away and covered.

“It’s beautiful,” says Tammy. “It’s gender-neutral and timeless. It will make a big difference for kids.”

Making a Difference

The Foundation was launched 12 years ago in memory of Tammy’s sister, Amanda, a teacher who died from a rare cancer at age 29.

“She loved children, so the Foundation was created to make a difference in the lives of children,” says Tammy.

It seemed only natural to partner with BMSCH. Several years ago, the Foundation funded the Beads of Courage program, in which cancer patients receive a colored bead for each experience they endure. For instance, a yellow bead signifies an overnight hospital stay. “It’s a form of art therapy,” says Tammy. “It helps spark a conversation among patients and caregivers because they know what the beads mean.”

Patients string the beads—which tell the “story” of their treatment—in the order in which they acquire them. “I’ve seen the beads wrap around a hospital room,” says Tammy. “The children receive them for their birthday and hair loss, for instance.”

The Beads of Courage program is now offered in three hospitals in New Jersey.

The Foundation also funds the “Smile Fund,” which pays for parties for cancer patients at BMSCH. The funds are available for food and paper goods, and they can be used for any type of celebration, whether it’s a birthday or Super Bowl party.

In 2018, the Foundation funded the Caring Cards Cart in the hospital’s resource room. The group supplies all-occasion greeting cards for patients and others. This includes birthday cards, thank-you notes, holiday cards and sympathy cards for both parents and kids. Stamps are also available.

“The Cart is especially helpful for families who have limited time to shop because they’re focused on their child’s well-being,” says Tammy.

Distracting Anxious Patients

Also funded by the Foundation are Smile Bags, yellow drawstring sacks that contain Play-Doh, crayons, Silly Putty, bubbles, travel games, markers and paper.

“These are all great distractions for kids who are ill,” says Tammy. “Even teenagers love Play-Doh.” The items can be shared with siblings, friends and other patients.

The Foundation has received such positive feedback that many hospitals request additional bags when the first batch runs out. “We often receive comments like, ‘This put a smile on my child’s face,’” says Tammy.

These efforts can make a big difference in the lives of kids—which is exactly what Amanda Styles Cirelli would have wanted.

“Knowing that she’s probably smiling down on us keeps us going,” says Tammy. “We bring smiles to children in honor of her.”

Smile Bags

Smile Bags filled with fun distractions for kids with cancer. 
Note: The photo above was taken before mask and
social distancing recommendations were in place.

Stuffed animals and toys ready to be packed in the Smile Bags

RWJBarnabas Health and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, in partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey—the state’s only NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center—provide close-to-home access to the most advanced treatment options. Call 844.CANCERNJ or visit

To support programs at The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital, visit or call (732) 937-8750.