Wedding planning isn’t usually part of our work at Rush. But a team from across the Medical Center recently worked together to make it possible for a dying father to see his daughter get married.
Rachel Halonen and Ian Marano were wed in a quickly arranged ceremony in the Rush Chapel on Saturday, Dec. 21, followed by a reception for 70 friends and relatives. The Chicago couple had planned their wedding for this coming September, but they moved up the date and changed the location when they learned that Sam Halonen, Rachel’s father and a patient at Rush, only had days left to live.
“I still can’t believe it all happened,” Rachel says. “It was incredible. It was a beautiful day, so much love and so many tears.”
Sam suffered from myelodysplastic syndrome, a bone marrow disease that impairs the production of certain blood cells. Diagnosed with the illness in the summer of 2012, Sam had received a stem cell transplant at Rush in March and had spent most of the past six months hospitalized. On Dec. 17, Sam’s physicians told him and his wife, Penny Halonen, that he was near the end of his life.
Rachel and Ian quickly decided to try to hold their wedding at Rush that weekend and asked Sam’s caregivers for help arranging it. They were directed to Eleanor Welch in the Department of Religion, Health and Human Values, who made the Rush Chapel available. They also sought out Terry Maynard, director of Hospital Guest Relations, who helped arrange for the use of Room 500 for the reception and coordinated the donation of a wedding cake from catering.
We provide excellent medical care at Rush, and we all can take pride in the high quality of treatment we offer our patients. It’s important, though, that in providing care we have true compassion for each patient, and not just treat the medical problem.
Our late colleague Roy Bakay, MD, provided great insight into patients’ need for compassionate understanding in a video he made before he died in September, following a long battle with stomach cancer. Drawing on his mutual experiences as a patient at Rush and as a neurosurgeon providing care for Rush patients, he eloquently and movingly talks about the insight he gained into patients’ fears and vulnerability. Roy goes on to discuss the importance of truly communicating with patients about their condition and making sure their families are involved in their care.
A highly accomplished clinician and researcher who specialized in Parkinson’s disease, Roy knew full well how demanding work at Rush can be. He also recognized, and talks about, the great difference it makes if caregivers do, or don’t, take simple steps to make sure patients understand who they are and what their role is in a patient’s care.
I encourage everyone to watch the video and benefit from the insights he offers from his own experience with illness. I’m sure you’ll be moved by Roy’s bravery and inspired by his example.
David Ansell, MD, MPH, is senior vice president of clinical affairs and chief medical officer at Rush University Medical Center.
Thelma Gant with her Pink Diva’s Pink Project partners
My name is Thelma Gant. I’m a breast cancer survivor.
Back in 2010, I was diagnosed with DCIS — ductal carcinoma in situ. DCIS is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer that starts in the milk ducts and has not yet spread into any normal tissue.
I received the best care here at Rush University Cancer Center, under the care of Dr. Ruta Rao. I was very lucky to detect it early by having my mammogram. I can’t stress enough the importance of having your annual mammogram check, which is key to early detection if diagnosed. Also knowing your family health history is important.
Once I was diagnosed, my team of doctors discussed my treatment plan, which consists of lumpectomy (removal of tumor), chemotherapy and radiation. After completing all my treatments, I wanted to find some kind of way to help women by educating them about breast cancer awareness.
In 2011, I created Pink Divas Pink Project. This group started out with me and four other women. The group has now grown to 11 members strong. We are starting to reach out to different community getting the message out. I was just invited out to Mount Moriah Baptist Church Health Fair in Harvey, Ill., and it was a great experience. I was able to make contact with this lovely lady who promised me she would schedule her mammogram.
Megan Kono (right) and Rush Philanthropy colleague Deanna Wisthuff
By Megan Kono
For as long as I can remember, swimming has been a big part of my life. From tiny tots swim lessons to year-round club teams, from high school swimming all the way through college, the sport has served as a constant anchor for me growing up. But after graduating in 2011 and taking a position on the Philanthropy staff at Rush, I wasn’t sure that swimming would have a place in my life as an adult, and I certainly didn’t think it would weave into our mission at Rush. After learning about the partnership between Rush and Swim Across America, I’m happy to say I was wrong.
Swim Across America is a nationally recognized foundation dedicated to increasing both awareness and funds in the fight against cancer. Ordinary people all over the country take part in the many open water events that Swim Across America organizes, swimming to raise money for cancer research. This summer marks the second year that Swim Across America has partnered with Rush to raise funds for research projects in our cancer center. Once again, proceeds from the Swim Across America Chicago Open Water Swim on July 20 be will be used to forward cancer research at Rush and bring us one step closer to eradicating this awful illness.
On Feb. 17, 2010, while I was teaching high school science in the Bronx, my mother was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. I quickly left everything — my teaching fellowship, my master’s degree program and my friends — and returned to Chicago to be with my family and my mom.
I always knew I was going to work in health care, but I wasn’t sure which route or specialty I was really interested in. While I saw my mother suffering, I came to a very big realization: There is nothing in the world harder than watching someone you love struggle for a breath. It was the most helpless feeling to not be able to alleviate any of that hardship.
After caring for her through her illness (my mother passed away about 10 months after she was diagnosed), I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to helping people breathe and supporting their loved ones. In 2011, I entered the Master of Science in Respiratory Care Program at Rush, where my mother received wonderful care, so I could help people care for their heart and lungs.
When Michael Ryan started his own software company, he was thrilled. But the joy of building his own start-up was tempered by his deteriorating health. He was shocked when his local physician diagnosed him with cirrhosis of the liver caused by hepatitis C acquired through a tainted blood transfusion. As his liver disease progressed to a point where his local doctors could not do anything more for him, they recommended that he seek treatment at Rush University Medical Center.
Michael was in the advanced stages of liver failure when he came to Rush. His only chance for survival was a liver transplant. As his health continued to decline, he was unable to work. He was in and out of the hospital for consultations, tests and procedures, and he suffered from mental confusion and memory lapses that can occur in the late stages of liver failure.
After receiving a liver transplant in 2005, he bounced back. Yet he faced an ocean of professional and financial debt. “The business was basically running on its own, and that led to a disaster by the time I got out of the hospital,” says Michael. “I had to shut down the business. With that, the insurance company dropped me because I didn’t have employees anymore.”
The Cancer Integrative Medicine Program team recently received exciting news: The Susan F. Lasky Cancer Foundation has provided funding so that patients with breast cancer can participate in a series of acupuncture, massage, nutritional counseling or yoga sessions, at no charge. The Cancer Integrative Medicine Program team is honored to receive this donation, as it creates opportunities for people who may not otherwise be able to afford our services, with a chance to be involved in their own care.
As the practitioner of Chinese medicine for the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program, I am thrilled to have this resource available to breast cancer patients. For those who elect acupuncture, the ability to receive a series of weekly treatments can make a significant impact in helping reduce the side effects related to cancer and cancer treatment. As one of the most studied forms of complementary medicine, acupuncture has been found to be safe, and play a very useful role in symptom supportive care. In research studies, acupuncture supports the immune system, and is known to help with symptoms like fatigue, depression, pain, vomiting, radiation-induced xerostomia (i.e., dry mouth), and chemotherapy-induced hot flashes.
If you or someone you know has a breast cancer diagnosis, and is interested in integrative medicine, please contact the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program at (312) 563-2531 to learn more about this wonderful opportunity.
Angela Johnson, Dipl OM, MSTOM, MPH, LAc, is a practitioner of Chinese medicine with the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program at Rush.
Staff and students at Rush University Medical Center gave up their hair for a good cause at the March 29 St. Baldrick’s Fundraiser, proceeds from which will go to pediatric cancer research. Learn more.