Brian Thibodeau has endured a bone marrow transplant, numerous complications and months of hospitalizations at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. For six years, he has been battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia. “But for one night on the field of Fenway Park, listening to James Taylor with my wife Kristen, I felt completely normal, thanks to Caring For A Cure,” he says.
They have raised more than $1 million to fund their acts of kindness, and they have done all of it entirely on their own time.
Kristen agrees. She recalls a particularly emotional time during Brian’s cancer journey, when “one of the nurses was comforting me while I cried without Brian seeing.” The next day, there was a large basket waiting. It was full of T-shirts, toys for their two young children, and a gift certificate for a massage near their Rhode Island home for her. “The nurses had chosen something specifically for each one of us in the family,” Kristen says.
Concert tickets and gift baskets are among the many ways that Caring For A Cure helps lift the spirits of Mass General Cancer Center patients and their families. The grassroots fundraising initiative is spearheaded by four Mass General oncology nurses.
More Than Just a Gesture
In eight years since they launched Caring For A Cure, the nurse co-directors and their colleagues have brightened the lives of thousands of patient families in large and small ways. In that time, they have raised more than $1 million to fund their acts of kindness, and they have done all of it entirely on their own time.
“Nurses spend a lot of time with our patients whether it’s at the bedside when they’re admitted or in the clinic during their treatments,” says Sara Stevens, NP, one of the co-directors. “When things get tough, we can’t make everything better, but we can be part of easing the burden, be it financial or emotional.”
Caring For A Cure Legacy
Sara’s three co-directors are the original founders of Caring For A Cure: Molly Higgins, RN, Christine Weiand, RN, and Laura White, RN. Initially, the program focused on helping patients on one hospital floor, but the nurses have expanded their reach throughout the Mass General Cancer Center. They have handed out shiny earrings to women who’ve lost their hair due to chemotherapy, and paid for groceries and hospital parking. They’ve sent a patient family on a helicopter ride over Boston and thrown a wedding in the hospital lounge. They have contributed to groundbreaking research and helped fund social work resources.
“These are four amazing women, who don’t stop caring when their shifts end,” says Maureen Duffy Abber, whose family is one of the initiative’s top supporters. “They all have families and work in oncology, which has to be one of the toughest jobs. Then on top of that to do this to enhance their patients’ lives is even more remarkable.”
“Working with our patients is like being in the family with them and we think about them long after we leave the hospital.”
Maureen’s husband, Jeffrey Abber, had stage 4 colon cancer. Over the course of 18 months, he had to spend one night in the hospital every other week. “Jeff had an infectious, positive attitude,” Maureen says. “Nothing was more important to him than supporting a cause that he saw help so many families and patients who had to be hospitalized much longer than he was.”
Jeff passed away in 2017 but his family honors his legacy by continuing to support Caring For A Cure. “There is nothing that my family and I won’t do for Caring For A Cure,” Maureen says.
Plans for the Future
Caring For A Cure is about to launch a program to help young adults with cancer connect with each other. Inspired by a young patient who was adamant about the need for such a program, Sara says they plan to start with an informal monthly meet-up away from Mass General.
Pursuing new directions like this one is only possible with the support of the Caring For A Cure community. “This is a team effort that goes way beyond the four of us,” Sara emphasizes. Many Mass General nurses run in 5Ks, marathons and triathlons to raise money. Their colleagues from social work, radiation oncology and other departments are also doing fundraisers. Teamwork, she says, and thousands of $5 and $10 donations helped them surpass their $1 million goal.
“Working with our patients is like being in the family with them and we think about them long after we leave the hospital,” Sara explains. “This program helps us support our patient families and our continuing success depends on everyone’s investment in it.”
For more information on how to support Caring For A Cure, please contact us.