A group of Calgary children who are working through a cancer diagnosis were treated to a private visit with the zoo’s panda family on Monday and for some it was the first time they have been out of isolation in months.

Cancer can inhibit the ability to ward off infection and for many children that means they are shut in while they receive treatment.

"These kids have some pretty serious issues and we wanted to make sure that there was a way that they could come down here, with piece of mind, and have a time to be down with an extra special morning where they didn’t have to worry about their immune systems compromised around other people,” said Trish Exton-Parder, Calgary Zoo Media Relations. “Take family away from the daily stresses of having a child that has challenges as well.”

“These children are currently on active cancer treatment, so their immune systems are extremely compromised. They wouldn’t be able to see the pandas, if it wasn’t for this private viewing, so we’re very grateful for this opportunity,” said Christine McIver, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Kids Cancer Care in a statement.

Staff set up a special reception for the children and prepped the areas they would visit by washing down surfaces and ensuring they were as sanitary as possible.

The kids and their families were treated to breakfast before heading to Panda Passage for a visit and talk from zoo educators.

“I’m glad that we can do whatever we can to make sure that they’re safe in coming to the zoo because the zoo’s for everybody,” said Melissa Ledingham, Corporate Program Coordinator, Calgary Zoo.

Cole Mecher, 7, has acute lymphoblastic leukemia and his mother Lisa says they used to visit the zoo quite often before he was diagnosed last November.

“We used to come here as a family, at least once a week. We’ve had a membership since he was little and now we’ve gone nowhere. The risk was just too high for these kids to go out in public so a place like the zoo that’s really populated with lots of people, gives us anxiety when they’re going through treatment.” said Lisa Mecher.

She says the private visit gets Cole and the other children out of a clinical environment and says he has been looking forward to the visit for a long time.

“He knew the fundraising was happening for this event so he knew that it was going to happen sometime in summer,” she said. “So yes, he’s been looking forward to it for two months.”

"They're from China," said Cole. “They eat bamboo, of course.”

Laura Rushforth was diagnosed with a brain tumour three years ago, which has taken away most of her sight.

The 10-year-old is also excited about the visit and for her, it’s an opportunity to see the pandas in a different light.

“I can really see the contrast between the panda and like the rocks and the ground around them so I think it’s really fun to be able to, it’s really interesting to be able to see them where they are and what they’re doing,” she said.

“For Laura to see the pandas and get up close, because she has to get close to be able to see the contrast, it’s amazing,” said her mother Jennifer. “The kids are the important piece and all the parents have been there.”

The visit was made possible by the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre.

For more information on Panda Passage, click HERE.