Where would you want to heal?

Nick Meza immediately knew his answer. As a lifelong Californian and committed Eagle Scout, his life was dotted with dips in the pool, canoe adventures along the river, and seaside snorkeling expeditions before being diagnosed with cancer two years ago.

“It is when I am in the water that I find the serenity and courage to stay positive and focus on what is right with the world,” says Nick, 20. “When I am in, around or close to a body of water, I forget about troubles and my life’s struggles and suddenly water becomes my life, my strength and my healing place.”

Now, Nick – and his fellow adolescent and young adult (AYA) patients at the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s – will get his wish, at least virtually.

A young cinematographer was paired with Nick to create an immersive film capturing life under the sea; other videos explored healing scenarios suggested by other patients. These films will offer Nick and his fellow patients a brief escape from their daily battles while broadcasted on large, vertically oriented television screens inside the lounge of CHOC’s newly opened AYA wing.

The lounge and multimedia system offers patients an experience similar to what’s provided by CHOC’s Infusionarium, which opened in 2014 inside the outpatient infusion center and provides an immersive, healing environment for patients.

It also provides AYA patients with a dedicated place to play video games, watch television and movies, or just hang out with their peers – a luxury Nick longed for when he was newly diagnosed with leukemia and found himself among the oldest CHOC patients.

“It’s nice to walk outside of your room and find a place to hang out,” he says. “You can take your brother and friends there and play video games. It’s a space for the teenagers – not the little kids.”

The AYA wing also includes four specially outfitted patient rooms. Dedicated to this unique patient population, room amenities include vibrant paint colors, customizable wall art, and portable, larger television sets. These mobile units share the library of patient-directed videos, as well as educational “cancer survival” videos and eBooks that feature CHOC experts.

The lounge was developed by Reimagine Well, a company that uses emerging technologies and digital media to create immersive healing environments.

The AYA wing dovetails with the Cancer Institute’s recognition that teens and young adult patients with cancer have unique needs. In fact, CHOC’s is among the few pediatric cancer programs in the country with dedicated services for this patient population.

“When it comes to treating an adolescent or young adult with cancer, their medical needs are unique – but so are their psychosocial needs,” says Dr. Leonard Sender, medical director of the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s. “The AYA wing will give these patients a venue to heal on their own terms and a place to call their own.”