Thanksgiving arrived a week early at the N.C. Cancer Hospital.
Hospital staff and volunteers hosted a Thanksgiving lunch on Friday, Nov. 18, for 150 patients and their caregivers. The annual lunch, provided by UNC Hospital Catering, featured a traditional holiday meal -- replete with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce -- live music, and a caricature artist. It has grown so popular with patients that it now requires two seatings, said Tina Shaban, manager of the UNC Lineberger Patient and Family Resource Center, which organized and hosted the lunch.
“It’s important to have our families together as part of our family,” Shaban said. “As staff, we’re part of the hospital family here, and patients and their supporters spend so much time with us here, that staff and families develop close relationships. It’s a great opportunity for all of us to remember that there are other things outside of cancer diagnosis and treatment. That patients have families, people who support them, and it highlights the love and the community that holiday celebrations can bring.”
UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Support Program team members and volunteers from UNC Hospitals helped serve the meal, and volunteers from the UNC Lineberger Patient & Family Advisory Council prepared and served a spread of desserts that included cookies, cannoli, cakes and pies. Loretta Muss, council coordinator, said she received an outpouring of support from volunteers to help prepare desserts.
“This event is a way of giving back, of ‘paying it forward,’” Muss said. “And no one ever turns me down to help or to bake.”
Patient & Family Advisory Council member Shayna Hill cared for her mother when she was being treated for cancer. Hill said events like the lunch go a long way for many patients and their families.
“Having cancer is so jarring and disruptive to the lives of people who have it,” Hill said. “Things like this are huge. It’s a very dark time to have cancer. To have something like this for people who may never come out of their room, (who may not want) to eat after infusion. To see people sit down in fellowship and have a moment away from the tough battle that is fighting cancer … is delightful.”
Melissa White said she found support at the lunch in seeing other caregivers and family members who had loved ones battling cancer. She had traveled from Elizabethtown in southeastern North Carolina to support a family member who was starting treatment for lymphoma. Previously, White had supported her best friend during cancer treatment.
“It’s a good opportunity to be thankful for what you do have, and for the people here at UNC, and at all of the hospitals, for what they offer to patients,” Hill said. “They send out a warmth that everybody needs, but they also send out encouragement and hope.”
Tracy Smith, a former employee of the Patient and Family Resource Center, said the meal helps unite patients and staff.
“This event gives patients a sense of community, it’s a sign that people care, and it reminds them that they’re just not a medical record number – they’re part of this family,” she said.
The lunch also offers a chance for people to step back from their role as a patient or a caregiver, if only briefly, said Patricia Cadle, oncology chaplain at the N.C. Cancer Hospital.
“Patients and families can come see each other in as non-medical of an environment as we can provide, laughing and thriving. This is a good time to see how they’re flourishing and living their lives. It sends hope, encouragement to keep on going.”