Breast cancer patients at Forrest General Hospital’s Cancer Center who complete treatment will not only get to ring the ceremonial bell marking the end of their treatment journey, but they’ll receive something else quite special.
Members of the Breast Cancer Awareness Team, which is comprised of representatives from Forrest General, South Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Merit Health Wesley, Pink and Seraphim Studios, will present patients, who are in their first year of survivorship, with either a stained glass panel or a painted granite rock. This special memento is in addition to a race medal presented by the Hattiesburg Half Marathon and Forrest General’s Cancer Center.
“I asked people I know who make stained glass to make an 8-inch square stained glass panel to be given to one of these patients,” said Dee Tatum, who has been heading up the Flowers of Hope project in Hattiesburg for the past 17 years. “It’s been fun.”
Michelle Williams, an oncology clinical nurse specialist at the center, said when the project started in 2004, a reception was held during October at Hattiesburg Library where the panels had been on display, and so survivors could pick up their panel. The event was hosted by Seraphim Studios, Tatum’s business, the BCAT Team and the Friends of the Library.
“Every year we had some survivors to come, but we had leftovers,” Williams said.
Those leftover panels have been given away at conferences held at the hospital or were held until the following year.
This year Tatum and Williams approached Cancer Center Patient Navigator Ramona Martin, RN, asking if it would be OK to give the keepsakes (17 panels and 14 rocks) to patients finishing treatments. The rocks were painted by members of Hattiesburg Rocks, a group who paints rocks and leaves them in places around town to brighten a person’s day.
“What I wanted to do was have us give them to the patients,” Tatum said. “I know fundraising in the long run is going to make the most difference in the greater ‘good,’ but in my mind, the patients got lost. We made the determination that we would make the panels for patients, not fundraisers. BCAT was the one group who wanted to work with me to do that.”
She said it took them two years to figure out how they were going to accomplish that.
“I’m able to determine when the patients are completing their treatments; and, from there, I can literally give one to every breast cancer survivor as she completes her treatment,” Martin said. “It can be presented to her at that final treatment. They have an opportunity to ring the bell, so this will just be an additional reminder of their success; something they can take with them. This is the beginning.”
Each panel is different, as is each granite stone. Originally the designs were taken from the book, Flowers of Hope by Denise Hurley of Florida, who had made the panels into quilts and sold as a fundraiser. She couldn’t run a marathon or do a lot of other things to support cancer survivors, but the glass panels was one thing she could do.
The glass panels are 8×8 and feature a variety of artistic styles – from fused glass to etched to painted and traditional leading. While artists branched out into their own designs, the one constant was the final result had to be a flower. The same with the stones. They’ve been made by a 9-year-old girl and an 84-year-old man and every age in between.
Each box holding a special treasure features a special label. A card inside the box gives the name of the artist, and if the piece has been made in memory or honor of someone.
Martin is excited about the possibility of making that long battle a little brighter for cancer survivors.
“Anything we can do to have the patients recognized for their accomplishments is great,” she said. “Anything we can do to encourage and help them move forward is a wonderful thing. It’s a hard journey they have been on. I don’t think we could do enough to recognize what the patients have been through, and now they are on the other side of that journey.”
Tatum understands that sentiment.
“Some of our artists have had breast cancer, some of our artists have people in their family who have had the disease, or friends,” she said. “I think what they wanted was to let patients who were going through it to know that they weren’t by themselves. There are people out here that you don’t even know that are wishing you well. And I think that was the main thing they were trying to do –say there are a bunch of people who you will never meet who are praying for you.”