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The Gift of Surviving Cancer and Giving Back

Ginny and Brealey 001She’s a striking blond. Attractive, warm, funny, caring, and always smiling. He’s also a striking blond – and warm and caring and funny – and seems to always be smiling as well.

“She” is Ginny Fineberg, a youthful looking 64 year old cancer survivor. And “he” is her self-proclaimed “Momma’s Boy” Brealey – an eight year old golden retriever and certified therapy dog who provides comfort and affection to cancer patients, retirement and nursing home residents, school children with learning disabilities and recovering trauma victims. Oh yes, and he’s also more than willing to perform tricks for yummy treats.

It’s a Monday in the chemotherapy suite in the Joan Karnell Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital and Ginny and Brealey have made their weekly trek from Cape May Courthouse, NJ, to visit the unit. Together their presence seems to brighten up the atmosphere and lighten everyone’s mood – patients and staff alike.

Ginny and Brealey 008Ginny offers her hand to a patient as a nurse gently prods for a vein to put in her line for chemo. She tells the patient, Dora, to hold tight and squeeze hard, in attempt to distract her from the pain and discomfort. Brealey stands by to offer support as well, tail wagging. As the nurse continues to put in Dora’s line, Ginny doles out helpful tips on stylish head scarves. She then strikes up an additional conversation with a head and neck cancer patient who was sitting quietly alone, across the way. She asks him questions and offers him nutrition tips suggesting foods that go easy on throats ravaged by radiation treatments. Brealey, meanwhile, joyfully goes from patient to patient offering his head (prime real estate for petting and ear rubs), tail ever-wagging. Other patients and visitors in the unit can’t help but laugh when they see Brealey who is wearing a navy blue Joan Karnell Cancer Center T-shirt modified to fit his four-legged frame and an official Pennsylvania Hospital ID badge.

“Did you have radiation also or just chemo?” Dora asks Ginny. “Oh yes, both” she replies. She knows what it feels like to literally sit in their place. She was there and battled back cancer not once but twice. And she remembers how it was a fellow patient who helped her get through a particularly rough time.

Twelve years ago, Ginny was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, a rare but very aggressive type of breast cancer that metastasized. There was no time to waste. Her surgeon recommended chemotherapy immediately before surgery. That was on a Monday. Three days later she was undergoing her first chemo treatment at the JKCC. After a breakdown one day during her treatment when Ginny was overwhelmed by anxiety, fear and pain, it was a fellow cancer patient who was able to console, comfort and give Ginny the advice and encouragement she so desperately needed. That was the first time she thought:  I really should give back in some way.

“After I completed 16 chemo treatments I thought to myself, I will never come back into this side of the building ever again,” said Ginny. “But then I thought I might be able to do some good. I wanted to show folks, see? Your hair really will come back! You will get through this! I did and you can too.”

Ginye and Brealey 007

As PAH celebrates cancer survivorship this June, it’s heart-warming to know that Ginny, a dynamic survivor and owner of an embroidery business (remember Brealey’s custom JKCC t-shirt?) and her furry sidekick will continue to spread smiles and de-stress patients at the JKCC, just as they have since 2009.

Celebrating Cancer Survivorship

For ten years the Joan Karnell Cancer Center at PAH celebrated National Cancer Survivors Day at a Celebration of Life event attended by patients, caregivers, physicians, nurses, staff, family, and friends. In 2012, the celebration shifted to a week-long series of events which focused on cancer patients currently undergoing treatment in the inpatient and outpatient areas of the hospital. A cancer survivor is defined as anyone living with a cancer diagnosis – from the point of diagnosis through the balance of their lives. This year, the JKCC is taking it up a notch and celebrating survivorship throughout the whole month of June.

The 26th National Cancer Survivor’s Day, which was recognized this year on Sunday, June 2, is an annual, worldwide Celebration of Life held in hundreds of communities throughout the US, Canada, and beyond.

Once again, the JKCC and PAH strives to enforce the national initiative to improve the care of cancer patients as they transition from active treatment to survivorship. Resources, education, support and empowerment – of survivors and their loved ones – will be provided throughout the whole month of June. The official kick-off event – open to all staff, patients, and visitors – was this past Tuesday, June 4, in the Hospital’s Elm Garden Cafeteria, with free water ice for all.

Since the launch this week, an “Oncology on Canvas” art show featuring the works of cancer patients and survivors, was installed throughout the PAH Campus and free shiatsu therapy was available on the in-patient Oncology unit for patients and care partners. There are events celebrating survivorship and in support of survivors and their care partners right through June 30th.  Events include a gospel concert “Faith Against Cancer,” several “walks/runs” to raise funds and awareness for cancer research, yoga and cooking classes, pet therapy with JKCC Canine Survivorship Partner Brealey – and much more.

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