As a two-time cancer survivor and longtime patient at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center patient, Susan Barry is grateful to be in a position to give back in return for the world-class, compassionate care she has received over the years. Susan has served as a co-chair of the Friends of the Mass General Cancer Center Fall Benefit: Couture for Cancer Care since 2016. The event raises money for supportive care services at the Mass General Cancer Center. With quiet determination, Susan is focused on growing support for the Friends and their mission, and advocating for the importance of supportive care for cancer patients and their families.
Beating Cancer Twice
A genetic cancer that runs in Susan’s family puts her at risk for several types of gastrointestinal cancers and requires vigilant surveillance. She was first diagnosed with colon cancer in 2002. Her primary care physician referred Susan to David Ryan, MD – the clinical director of the Mass General Cancer Center and a gastrointestinal cancer specialist – and Daniel Chung, MD. Drs. Ryan and Chung acted quickly, and successfully treated Susan’s cancer.
Ten years later, Susan was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare, difficult to treat type of bile duct cancer. She underwent surgery with Christina Ferrone, MD to remove half of her liver. The procedure was followed by six months of chemotherapy. Susan then completed six weeks of radiation five days a week with Ted Hong, MD.
She credits her team of Mass General caregivers for the positive outcomes with both of her cancers. “Everyone has been great about not just treating me, but my family as well,” Susan says. “I always felt like I was in the right place.”
Giving Back Through the Friends
The Friends of the Mass General Cancer Center are volunteers who raise funds to bridge exceptional medical and supportive cancer care through innovative programs that promote whole-person healing. For over 30 years, the Friends have provided essential supportive care services to patients and their families.
“Supportive care services are very important to positive outcomes for patients,” Susan Barry says.
Susan’s involvement with the Friends began in 2014, when she first bought and organized a table of her friends to attend the Friends Spring Luncheon. At the event, she ran into Dr. Ryan, who encouraged her to get more involved with the Friends.
At another Mass General event soon after the Spring Luncheon, Susan met Sylvia Fernandez-del Castillo, a longtime member of the Friends Council and a three-time co-chair of the Friends Fall Benefit. The very next day, Sylvia asked Susan to co-chair the Fall Benefit with her. Susan said yes, and the two have worked together to grow the event ever since. In addition to her duties as the Fall Benefit co-chair, Susan serves as a member of the Friends Council. She’s also been a member of the Friends Spring Luncheon event committee since 2015.
Supportive care services funded by the Friends include the Katherine A. Gallagher Integrative Therapies Program, the Financial Assistance Fund for Patients and Families and the Maxwell V. Blum Support and Education Fund. These services are non-reimbursable through insurance, and yet they are integral to the care Mass General provides. Donations raised by the Friends help provide these services to patients at no cost.
“I am thankful for the opportunity to raise funds for the Friends and support others facing a cancer diagnosis and their families while undergoing treatment,” Susan says.
Advocating for Whole-Person Healing
Susan knows firsthand what the programs supported by the Friends mean. She had three young children – ages two, four and six – at home when she was first diagnosed with colon cancer. Her biggest fear was how to keep them healthy, emotionally and physically, while caring for herself. Her caregivers directed her to the book Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child when a Parent is Sick. The book, which was written by Mass General psychiatrist Paula Rauch, MD, was published as part of the MGH PACT Program (Parenting at a Challenging Time) – which is supported by the Friends.
Susan relied on the Friends’ funded Curbside Concierge and Valet Program during her treatment for cholangiocarcinoma. “By the time I started radiation, I was physically and emotionally running on low battery. While it may sound insignificant in the overall scheme of things, being met curbside day after day by a smiling face and helping hand made this last leg of the journey bearable,” says Susan. Patients throughout the hospital can now use the Curbside Concierge program at no cost during treatment.
“This is one of the small ways I can give back for the care I’ve received,” Susan says.
Supportive Care and Positive Outcomes
“These supportive care services are bubble wrap – when you’re going through this, you need TLC. Supportive care services are very important to positive outcomes for patients,” says Susan.
Today, Susan is cancer-free, and maintains her connections with Mass General for cancer monitoring. She and her husband Kevin live on the North Shore and have three grown children. She’s active in her community in a number of capacities at the Brooks School in North Andover, the Women’s Fund of Essex County and the North Shore Garden Club.
As co-chair of the 2018 Friends Fall Benefit, Susan recently helped to raise close to $300,000 for supportive care programming . She remains committed to helping bridge the gap in funding for supportive care services at the Cancer Center.
“This is one of the small ways I can give back for the care I’ve received,” Susan says. “I’ve been very lucky.”
For more information about Mass General cancer care and the services supported by the Friends of the Mass General Cancer Center, please contact us.