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Leah Austin, right, enjoying her lunch.

The Mary Anne Long Patient and Family Resource Center at the North Carolina Basnight Cancer Hospital hosted its annual Thanksgiving luncheon for patients and their caregivers Nov. 23. This marked the first time in three years the event was held after it was paused for COVID-19 concerns.

In the past, the event provided a seated meal and entertainment in the hospital’s main conference room, but continued concerns about COVID exposure for those who are immune compromised led the PRFC to instead provide box lunches, which included desserts made by the hospital’s Patient & Family Advisory Council members.

“COVID has changed our ability and people’s comfort in how we use our spaces in common, so we wanted to set up the luncheon in a way that would be inclusive, safe and meaningful for all,” said Linnea Van Pelt, BSN, RN, CMSRN, OCN, LMBT, patient services manager, UNC Oncology Support Services. The switch to offering boxed lunches also made it possible to serve more patients and caregivers than was possible in the past. In all, 400 box lunches were handed out.

Another new feature this year was the guided journey of gratitude. Based on research by UNC Lineberger’s Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, that demonstrates the value of regularly experiencing positive emotions, the PFRC team created stations throughout the cancer hospital lobby that highlighted the 10 primary positive emotions: love, gratitude, hope, joy, inspiration, interest, serenity, pride, awe and amusement.

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A stop on the guided journey of gratitude throughout the cancer hospital lobby.

“Practicing positive emotions regularly helps individuals to cope with stress and live happier lives,” Van Pelt said. “Each station provided patients and caregivers with opportunities to participate in activities and learn about a specific positive emotion as well as receive blessings from hospital chaplains.”

In addition to the stations, donated winter outerwear, including coats, hats and gloves, were available to those in need. The Comprehensive Cancer Support Program and clinical staff also donated food items and grocery gift cards for four “baskets of hope,” which were given to families experiencing food insecurity during this holiday season.

Festive music was plentiful throughout the luncheon, with Adam Tierney playing acoustic guitar in the conference room and Mary Ann Van Pelt, Van Pelt’s mother-in-law, playing the recently donated baby grand piano in the hospital lobby.

There even was some levity as Katie Kinsey, LRT/CTRS, oncology patient navigator, dressed in a giant turkey suit and strutted to music through the conference room and hospital lobby, bringing smiles to many – and lunches to patients in the clinics.

“My team is amazing, and comprised of some of the most generous, creative and hospitable people on earth, so everyone was super excited to be able to celebrate with our patients and their caregivers in any way,” said Van Pelt, who also praised the contributions of the UNC Health Volunteer Association, which sponsored the lunch with nutrition program funding. “They’ve been an incredible partner to us this past year with multiple initiatives, including getting some incredibly beautiful wigs for our patients in our boutique.”

As patients and their caregivers walked into the conference to choose a box lunch and pick up a home baked dessert, it was clear that many were touched by the gesture. “Thank you so much. I am so grateful for all this,” one patient said. By the smiles on the PFRC staff and volunteers’ faces, it was clear the opportunity to bring some joy to patients and their caregivers brought them joy, too.