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Breast Cancer Survivors Raise Big Bucks for Foundation, FitzPatrick Cancer Center

Organizers inspired by care at FCC

Connected by friendship, grateful to beat breast cancer and inspired by the compassionate care they received, two North Country women organized and hosted a fundraiser that will benefit cancer patients in the region for years to come. Lisa McGinn and Chris Bigelow are also hoping it demonstrates the power of community-based generosity and the benefits such an event can offer to The Foundation of CVPH and the many lives it touches, while convincing others to take action and give back in any way they can.

From golf outings to extravagant dress-up events and even live virtual auctions in the midst of the pandemic, The Foundation is known for creating memorable moments that support the care that communities across northern New York need.

Events like “Stepping Out for Your Heart” help raise awareness about specific issues like heart health, while this year’s “Shamrock Shuffle” brought in enough money to help pay for a new bassinet in the Alice T. Miner Women and Children’s Center at CVPH.

This past summer, McGinn and Bigelow held their own special event, bringing family, friends, neighbors and others together for a simple get together with food, drinks and lots of laughs that also raised thousands of dollars to help others battling cancer.

“We just wanted to give back to the FitzPatrick Cancer Center,” McGinn, a breast cancer survivor who was cared for at the FCC, said recently. “They were just so great to us. They know you, they know what you’re there for. You’re not just a number.”

FIGHT OF THEIR LIVES

McGinn’s cancer battle began in December 2019. Six months later, her good friend Chris received the same diagnosis. Both had a rare form of invasive cancer known as mucinous carcinoma of the breast. In each case, the cancer was caught during a routine mammogram. Bigelow and McGinn say that early detection was a big reason why they won the fight of their lives.

They also credited the entire cancer center team for being by their side every step of the way. The retired teachers praised the upbeat nature and warm greetings from the front desk staff, helping ease the anxiety they felt when arriving for appointments and treatments. This was especially important for Bigelow, as she received her cancer care in the relatively early stages of the pandemic and was concerned about COVID-19.

McGinn called Radiation Oncologist Anthony Vaccaro, MD, “fantastic,” for ensuring her care needs were addressed as she underwent radiation treatment. Bigelow said she was incredibly grateful for her surgeon,  Kathryn Giroux, MD, who spent more than an hour during one visit answering all of her questions, showing her where the cancer was and how they were going to remove it before performing the lumpectomy. And both offered further praise for their Breast Care Navigators, who helped with everything from setting up appointments to addressing any concerns they had.

PAYING IT FORWARD

McGinn and Bigelow were so inspired by the care they received at the FCC that they wanted to pay it forward.

“I think going there every day like we did, we saw the need and also realized how lucky we were,” McGinn offered.

The two cancer survivors decided to hold a get together at McGinn’s home along Chazy Lake and started inviting everyone they could think of, including family, friends, neighbors, former colleagues and fellow book club members. They made flyers that their lake association president helped distribute, prepared hors d’oeuvres and secured a few donated items to be raffled off. And the pair made sure everyone in attendance followed COVID-19 safety guidelines. Both Bigelow and McGinn said that while putting the event together was hard work, it was not as difficult as they had expected, and it turned out to be well worth their effort.

“I think people were just so excited to be together,” Bigelow remembered. “And they felt good that they were helping a great cause, and that just made us feel absolutely wonderful.”

COMFORT DURING CANCER CARE

The hosts went into the gathering of friends and family hoping to raise a few hundred dollars. When all was said and done, they had received $4,670, including checks that came in before and after the event. In September, McGinn and Bigelow were proud to present their gift to The Foundation, which they agreed could be used to purchase a new medical grade reclining chair for the FCC’s Infusion Center. The new chair promotes patient comfort and staff safety, including power height and reclining position adjustments that provide more comfort for the patient while significantly reducing back strain for nurses. It also features ultra-comfortable layered foam seating and a USB port for patients to plug in their electronics to help pass the time during treatment. And it can accommodate any type of treatment or procedure that occurs in the Center, providing flexibility as to where patients can be stationed.

Bigelow reflected on how meaningful it was for her and McGinn to be able to give back in this way, saying, “I just am overwhelmed at how much we were able to do. It was very rewarding, and I’m so glad that we were able to help with something that’s going to impact patients who come to the FitzPatrick Cancer Center for years to come.”

“DIY” FUNDRAISING

“It’s incredibly moving to see two cancer survivors bring their community together in such a way to help others,” CVPH Associate Vice President of Philanthropy Kerry Haley, CFRE said. “These women are paying it forward and then some.”

“And the great thing about this is their experience shows it is a relatively straight forward way to touch many lives in the North Country,” she continued “A barbecue with some friends and neighbors or even a fun outing with co-workers that raises money for The Foundation can make a difference. Every little bit helps, and every dollar that’s donated stays right here, helping people you know and love.’

Haley also pointed out there are other needs patients have, including gas and other travel-related expenses to get to and from appointments and treatments, prescriptions, equipment like scales and monitors required for home care and many other funds that support better individual and community health. 

McGinn and Bigelow encourage everyone to donate what they can.

“A small amount can still make a huge difference. Paying for gas, especially how expensive it is now, can be a big deal for someone with cancer who needs to get to an appointment. And it’s also good for your soul, makes you feel good, too,” McGinn explained. “Our fundraiser took some work, but it was worth it in the end knowing that we’re helping others.”

If you are interested in organizing a third-party fundraiser to benefit The Foundation of CVPH, contact Michelle Senecal, Events and Special Projects Manager, at (518) 314-3359 or email msenecal@cvph.org.