Seven months pregnant, Sally Waite and her husband Steve had just set up a nursery for their first child, when they were blindsided to learn that the severe abdominal pain Sally had been experiencing was due to stage IV colon cancer.
One month later, in November 2013, a healthy little boy was born and aggressive treatment at Mass General Cancer Center began. Through 11 grueling rounds of chemotherapy and four surgeries, “I was determined that Sam deserved a great first year of life with lots of positive energy and love,” she recalls. “I am amazed I found the strength to handle it all.”
Supported by her loved ones, Sally is now just as determined that others who come to the Mass General Cancer Center also find strength and support through their personal ordeals with cancer. She walked the fashion runway with her nurse practitioner, Theresa McDonnell, DNP, ACNP-BC, as part of the Friends of Mass General Cancer Center fundraiser called Couture for Cancer Care, at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel on Nov. 19, 2015. “Any way I can find to give back to those who helped me through the hardest time in my life, I’ll do it,” she explains.
Funding Cancer Support Services
The Friends raise money for supportive services that are integral to cancer care but are not covered by medical insurance. Wellness services include massage, acupuncture, yoga, and music and art therapy. Their fundraising also supports education resources, support groups and the Healing Garden, a rooftop retreat at the hospital. “These services can be the difference between a patient coping well and not coping well,” explains Ms. McDonnell, director of Cancer Center Clinical Services.
“But I’m a better person and a better mom just knowing that people like my doctors and nurses exist in the world.”
“Any distraction or extra comfort is so important,” agrees Sally, who received massages and participated in support networks. “I had some of the greatest doctors in the world but I also felt like they understood me as a person, that my emotional well being was just as important as the physical.”
Ms. McDonnell is part of what Sally refers to as her “cancer dream team, people who brought hope back into my life.” The team also included David Ryan, MD, chief of Hematology/Oncology and clinical director of the Cancer Center and the Tucker Gosnell Center for Gastrointestinal Malignances. “We call Terry the voice of calm in our house,” Sally adds. “I don’t know if I could have gotten through the grueling treatment without Terry’s competence and compassion.”
Symbol with New Significance
Sam just turned 2 and life has returned to something closer to normal. “We’re managing the fear of recurrence and it can be exhausting at times,” Sally says. “But I’m a better person and a better mom just knowing that people like my doctors and nurses exist in the world.”
She has also resumed another project interrupted by cancer. She and her aunt launched a jewelry company that centers on bee charms. What started as a symbol to remind women to “just bee” in the present has taken on additional significance to “bee” strong and be a survivor. She points out that bees anatomically shouldn’t be able to fly, but do by flapping their wings fast enough. “If we persevere, we all have it in us to get through the most challenging of situations too,” she explains. Part of their proceeds go to Mass General cancer research.
Sally says she was thrilled to be part of the fashion show. She modeled a Nic+Zoe outfit of her choosing and was excited that a makeup artist who works with Giorgio Armani did her makeup. “This is the official beginning and end of my modeling career,” she jokes. Modeling is perhaps a tad less in Ms. McDonnell’s comfort zone, “But apparently I’ll do just about anything for this hospital,” she says.
For more information about Mass General cancer care and the services supported by the Friends of Mass General Cancer Center, please contact us.