On Wednesday, March 30 at 7:00pm, Fox Chase is pleased to welcome writer and breast cancer survivor, Susan Conley, who will read from her new memoir, The Foremost Good Fortune in the Fox Chase auditorium. A dessert reception and book signing will follow the reading.
In the book, named among “15 Books to Watch For” by O, The Oprah Magazine, Conley recounts her journey with her husband and two young sons from their home in Maine to Beijing, China, where they will spend two years. But Susan can’t predict how much their lives will change as she later receives a cancer diagnosis.
This event is free and open to the public, however registration is required. For more information or to register, go to www.fccc.edu/authors, call 215-728-2926 or write to us at email@example.com. Books will be available for purchase at the event, courtesy of Joseph Fox Bookshop.
It’s easy to get here: Did you know that Fox Chase is only minutes from Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy or Abington? Click for a map.
Be well, Bob
“Even more than cancer, my book was about motherhood and about hope on any continent.”
Three and a half years ago my husband, Tony, and I and our two young sons moved to China. My husband is one of those fluent Mandarin speakers who speaks Mandarin like he’s lived there all his life, and when he got the chance to open his company’s office in Beijing, we jumped at it.
I’ve been a writer for as long as I remember and when we climbed on that jumbo jet to China and flew over the North Pole and down into the next hemisphere, I was already scheming on the book I’d write about our trip. It would be one part travelogue of our adventures in China and two parts parenting handbook of my successes and disasters as a mother in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language.
Once we’d landed in Beijing, I began to write that book—chapters about the boys and Tony and me eating dumplings and lighting fireworks and getting lost in the capital city’s back alleys. But then I got cancer in China.
One sunny Tuesday morning, I was resting my fingers on my collarbone while I talked to my two boys about going swimming, and I knew something was not right—what were these marble-like things doing in my chest wall? I went straight to the international hospital in Beijing. My doctor there was a respected surgeon who didn’t believe that these lumps of mine were anything to get worried about. He was dismissive. He said his biggest concern for me was that we would do a surgery to remove the lumps and they’d be benign and I’d be left with ungainly scars. I said I didn’t care about scars. He just smiled and sent me home.
What happened next was a cultural collision in how to approach breast cancer. The Chinese doctor didn’t want to do anything about my breast lumps, but when I called my American gynecologist back in the States, she coached me to drive back to that Beijing hospital and tell the surgeon I needed to get the lumps out. Which is what I did.
Then after one surgery in China, my family traveled back to New England and settled there for a summer of more cancer treatments. What I learned in the Sates was that there are amazing breast cancer oncologists, nurses, and surgeons in our country. They work in big cities at large cancer centers and in smaller communities and towns. I learned that cancer care could look differently than the way mine did in Beijing, and that the picture is a hopeful one. It’s a picture about dialogue with our doctors and mutual respect and yes, even, inspiration. Because I was lucky enough to find doctors in the States who to this day still inspire me to be strong.
Many months later, after a mastectomy in the States and radiation and reconstruction, I went back to that book I’d been writing in Beijing—the one that was no longer a travelogue, the one that now had to be about breast cancer if I was ever going to finish it. I began writing again. And when I finished the book, I realized that even more than cancer, my book was about motherhood and about hope on any continent.
I look forward to talking with many of you at Fox Chase on March 30 for my book reading.
This week, I have the special honor of introducing you to Kathy McGonigal, a certified oncology nurse. Not only is Kathy the Breast Care and GI Coordinator at Fox Chase Cancer Center Partner hospital, Pottstown Memorial Medical Center, she is the founder of Hands Unite to Give Strength, (H.U.G.S.), a program she developed to support cancer patients emotionally and financially.
Be well, Bob
“I am a daughter, sister, wife, mother and grandmother. I am also an oncology certified nurse and sometimes I think that is what defines me.” Kathy McGonigal
Having spent the last 20 years as a certified oncology nurse, I believe I have first hand knowledge of the impact of cancer. Not just on the individual diagnosed, but everyone around them – family, friends, nurses, and doctors. And one of the things I’ve learned is that everyone finds and draws strength from different sources. But the reality is that the only other person who understands what it’s like to be diagnosed with cancer, is another cancer survivor.
This understanding was the catalyst for Hands Unite to Give Strength (HUGS).
Our mission is to create a community of cancer survivors who come together to help each other sustain hopefulness and optimism when there is uncertainty.
H.U.G.S. is a place where patients and survivors can share their story, find additional strength, and support one another. It is home to real examples of the ups and downs and the wins and losses associated with cancer. The stories inspire perseverance, strength, and courage. They bring life’s real joys and priorities into perspective.
Through H.U.G.S., we have accomplished our goal of supporting and contributing to the cancer community in several ways. First, our site is a place to read the inspiring stories of cancer survivors. These generous people have been kind enough to let others into their lives during their most challenging times. They have shared their deepest fears and their greatest accomplishments. The beauty of the stories is they aren’t just for other cancer patients, they resonate with family members, caregivers, friends, and complete strangers. While the theme is cancer, the message is about living the fullest life.
Secondly, we have designed unique hats and headscarves for patients going through chemotherapy. Everyone who has shared their story has also donated a piece of personal fabric that was meaningful to them during their cancer treatment. We take that fabric and turn it into “patches” with that survivor’s name embroidered on it. Each hat/headscarf we make has one of these patches sewn onto it. We hope that when you wear one of these garments, you can connect with the strength of survivors who came before you.
And finally, we wanted to find a way to further support the cancer community at large. We have found and been connected to other groups and organizations who are doing amazing work supporting patients, survivors, and researchers. As a result we have started the H.U.G.S. Fund.
A portion of all the proceeds from the sale of hats and headscarves will go toward this fund. We will then use this money to make donations and contributions to other organizations that are making a difference.
If you or anyone you know would like to share their story, please contact us via our website www.hugsforstrength.com or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Whether you’ve been newly diagnosed, are in the middle of treatment or in remission, we think there are many people who will be able to connect with and draw strength from your experience.
We often feature Fox Chase patients, staff, and community members in our blog who donate their time toward a good cause. Whether traveling to East Africa to provide care or organizing a local bake sale, they inspire us to engage in our own charitable efforts. The story of Fox Chase nurse Marge Townsend, BSN, and her granddaughter offer such inspiration. Marge has worked at Fox Chase for more than 14 years, beginning as a staff floor nurse and now working in ambulatory care. As the proud mother and grandmother of seven, Marge wanted to impart her passion for helping others to her family. I asked Marge to share how one of her granddaughters, 11-year-old Kaitlyn, has taken her grandmother’s message to heart and made a real impact through her service.
Have your own story to share? We’d love to hear from you – just post it in the comment section below.
Be Well, Bob
As a mother and grandmother, I’ve tried to serve as a positive example to my family of giving back to others, in no small part through my career as a nurse. My children watched as I went back to school to achieve my BSN, and followed my path through various positions in hospice and acute oncology nursing. I was open with them about the trials my cancer patients have to face during treatment and beyond. However, I have tempered this reality with the perspective that Fox Chase is a hospital full of long-time survivors who have received the best medical care and compassion from the staff. I believe seeing me serve the community through my career has given my family the sense that, even in the most devastating situations, there is always something that we can do to help others overcome unforeseen trials.
My granddaughter, Kaitlyn, has truly taken this message of philanthropy to heart. Kat has always been extremely kind, and her commitment to helping others shows more every year. When she was in second grade, she announced that she was donating her hair to Locks of Love because other little girls who were sick needed the hair much more than she did. After seeing video on the news from the earthquake in Haiti, she refused to accept birthday gifts and instead asked family and friends to donate money for earthquake relief, raising $435 for the cause. And last October, when a young teacher at her school passed away due to breast cancer, Kat decided to start “Kat’s Candy That Cares” to raise money for cancer research. She gathered donation pledges based on the amount of candy she collected on Halloween and raised $270 for the 200 treats she brought home that night.
I couldn’t be more proud of Kat for her willingness to give not only her time but her possessions to help others. When asked why she does it, my granddaughter just looks confused and says that she “felt like other people needed stuff.” She doesn’t know that her actions are remarkable, but feels like she is meant to give back. This is an amazing attitude for such a young woman, and it’s wonderful to watch the way she inspires others to question what they are doing to make the world better, as well.