From left-to-right, Nic Mayhan, Elijah Rueth and Mullen lacrosse coach Kevin O’Brien deliver toys to pediatric cancer patients at University of Colorado Hospital.

When Nic Mayhan’s mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he ended up spending more time than any teenager should in the Department of Radiation Oncology at University of Colorado Hospital. Luckily his mom’s tumor wasn’t life-threatening. But Nic got to talking with his mom’s radiologist, Arthur K. Liu, MD, PhD. In addition to providing adult radiation treatments, Dr. Liu is the primary radiation oncologist for kids with cancer seen at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Dr. Liu works with roughly 150 young cancer patients every year and after every visit, these kids get to choose a toy from a special trunk Dr. Liu keeps in his office.

“These treatments are hard for adults and they’re even more difficult for kids. Getting to choose a little something at the end of a visit can help kids go away with a more positive feeling about the whole experience,” Dr. Liu says.

In other words, these are kids who need a smile. And sometimes it doesn’t take that much to make one — just a pack of Matchbox cars, a volleyball, a Frisbee, maybe a stuffed animal or a little art kit. The value of these toys that come out of Dr. Liu’s trunk is incalculable. Unfortunately, the value of these toys going into the trunk is very calculable. See, it takes money to buy toys and there’s no fund earmarked for stuffies and Nerf balls.

That’s the story that Nic heard. It was tempting to clear out his closet of old toys. It was tempting to mow some lawns and donate a couple bucks. Nic Mayhan did more. He retold the story to his lacrosse team at Mullen High School in Southwest Denver.

“When the guys heard about these kids and this box of toys there was no question. They wanted to help,” Nic says.

The team started bringing in toys. This past Tuesday, Nic showed up at the Radiation Oncology Department with his teammate, Elijah Rueth, and their coach, Kevin O’Brien, to drop off what they had gathered. It took three athletic guys to carry the load. Actually, it took Nic, Elijah and Kevin plus a handful of hospital staff to haul the seven yard-waste-sized trash bags stuffed with toys into the back. First they took over the pediatric waiting room where, fortunately, there was no one waiting. Then it was pretty obvious that the overflowing bags couldn’t stay in the playroom and so the group made its way to Dr. Liu’s office.

Dare we say that Dr. Liu’s office was maybe just a touch cluttered to begin with? It’s not huge. Wall space is at a premium, with pictures of his own kids hung alongside degrees from M.I.T. and Harvard and framed 5280 magazine “Best Doctor” awards (yes, we’re very happy to brag about Dr. Liu). There was a pile of paperwork that very likely hid a desk. And the office’s beaming owner was obviously overjoyed to fill the remaining space with black trash bags. The bags made the toy trunk itself look small and it was clear that the lacrosse team’s donations would restock the trunk for many months to come.

Nic.4Dr. Liu led a tour of the department. The boys and their coach learned about the machines that deliver radiation treatments. They took a look at the high-tech computer scans of Nic’s mom’s brain that Dr. Liu had used to plan treatment. But, really, everyone was thinking about the same thing. There was a child in the recovery room waking up from anesthesia. Due to privacy concerns, Nic, Elijah and their coach wouldn’t meet the child. But they knew that after having some juice, that kid was going to get the first look at the newly stocked toy trunk. Who better to pick kids’ toys than teenagers who were only a couple years older than the patient? Stickers? Nah. A bouncy ball? Nah. The trunk was chock-full of the absolute awesomest toys you can imagine. It was a bonanza, a treasure chest.

Here’s what everyone was thinking: When this kid opens the trunk, it’s gonna blow his or her mind. On a day that probably didn’t lend itself to much fun, this was going to be a treat. It was a treat that didn’t have to happen. Without Nic and the Mullen lacrosse team, it wouldn’t have. Now, in just a few minutes, some kid’s day was going to be just a little bit brighter.

Nic wants to make this a yearly donation. His coach is already on board to help continue the tradition. Dr. Liu is happy to wade through Nerf crossbows to reach his paperwork. And the kids from Children’s treated at the Cancer Center at University of Colorado Hospital will get a chance to leave their appointments feeling just a little better about it all.