It was September 1986. After several major life changes, things were finally settling down for Gail Wright. Just as she was starting to breathe more easily, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was terrifying.
“My grandmother and several of my aunts died of cancer, so I was sure it was a death sentence,” Gail recalled.
Fortunately, the cancer had not spread, but it was difficult news to deliver to her family and friends.
“The hardest thing for me was telling my children I had cancer. One was in high school; one was in college and one had just graduated from college and was starting a job. Telling my parents was also extremely hard, but I think sometimes we forget that our families and friends are our best supporters.”
Gail’s cancer was eliminated through surgery. She took tamoxifen for five years to prevent the cancer’s return, but otherwise needed no further treatment. Because of her experience, she was compelled to join a breast cancer support group and volunteer her time for various breast cancer fundraisers and events over the years.
“A few other cancer survivors and I helped organize and run the Cancer Survivor Day for Marinette and Menominee for about 20 years until the new hospital, Aurora Medical Center – Bay Area, opened in 2018,” she said. “I believe it’s important for cancer survivors to have the opportunity to get together with other survivors to share their stories – and also for those newly diagnosed with cancer to see hope in long-term survivors.”
In June, Aurora Bay Area’s Nursing Shared Governance team partnered with Aurora Health Care Foundation to hold a Cancer Survivor Walk. Team members and volunteers were invited to honor cancer survivors and raise funds for a new healing garden outside the Cancer Center. The healing garden will serve as a quiet place of reflection and hope for patients and their families.
Gail and her daughter were guests at the event, which raised nearly $5,000. “I am grateful every day for my 35 years of survivorship.”
For some, the walk was a way to honor the memories of those who lost their battles with cancer by purchasing and decorating luminaries. One of those being remembered was one of the hospital’s own team members, Darcy Slayton. Darcy’s husband, Joe, was grateful to talk and share memories with Darcy’s teammates and friends.
The event brought a sense of community and shared purpose to the hospital’s team members, volunteers and special guests like Gail. Many team members were inspired to donate in honor of their patients and loved ones and to bring a healing garden to the hospital. Below are a few quotes from team members after the event.
“Working in oncology is unique. The staff forms special bonds with the patients they care for. We go through the highs and lows with them, and they begin to feel like family. I felt that it was important to donate because so many patients impacted me during my career, and I want to honor them. Building a healing garden for our patients gives them some beauty in their lives when it may be difficult for them to find.” -Brittany Wortner, RN, MSN, OCN, Charge Nurse- Oncology & Wound Care Services
“My best friend, Tina, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at the age of 37 and lost her battle a couple of years ago. She was passionate about gardening. She would have loved to see a beautiful garden outside of the cancer center during her treatments. If she was alive today, she would totally support this mission.” -Heidi Smith, Director of Surgical Services, Surgery
“Unfortunately, many members of my family have battled cancer. I wanted to donate in their honor and to help provide a beautiful garden for future cancer fighters to enjoy as they walk through the course of this difficult disease.” -Nicole Swanson, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, Vice President of Nursing
How you can help
The new healing garden at Aurora Bay Area will only be possible through the generosity of donors like you. Please consider joining our staff and volunteers by making a gift here. Or support a program or hospital in your community here.