OXFORD, Ohio - Pam Porter used to roam the halls in the oncology unit at Oxford's McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital (MHMH), frequently saying hi to patients, flashing them a smile despite their gloomy circumstances and asking them how they were doing. This sort of behavior is not all that uncommon in hospitals; however it typically comes from a doctor, a nurse, a friend or a family member. What makes Pam's actions so unique is she was in fact a patient herself.
"One of the patients was talking about her just a few weeks ago -- how extraordinary they thought that was that she was going through this treatment and not feeling well herself yet she was worried about them," recalled Sally Hellard, the head nurse at MHMH's oncology unit who helped treat and care for Pam at the hospital.
Unfortunately, Pam, an Oxford resident of over 20 years, was only able to brighten her fellow patients at MHMH for a few months. She was diagnosed with cancer in December of 2009 and after a seven-month struggle with the debilitating disease, Pam succumbed to the illness and passed away in July of 2010 at the young age of just 37.
"Sometimes when you pass people in life, they just have this effect or aura around them where they just touch people. They're special and people remember them. That's how I think of Pam," Hellard explained.
Following Pam's passing, several donations were made to the MHMH Trust in her memory. Like the nurses who helped Pam and the patients who admired her, Pam's family wanted to make sure she was remembered while also putting the money in the trust to good use. This past January after enough money had been collected, Pam's sister, Karen Porter-Kramig, and her brother-in-law, Bobby Kramig, also long-time residents of Oxford, met with Julie Nickell, MHMH's director of development, to set up the Pam Porter Fund.
The fund, one of just two oncology funds at MHMH, is aimed at supporting the oncology patients at MHMH, as well as the doctors and nurses who work in the unit. The mission is to assist in providing care, comfort and compassion to patients and their families who are receiving treatment in the MHMH oncology unit. The other oncology fund is targeted more for equipment, making the Pam Porter Fund one of a kind at MHMH. The hospital has several other funds as well but most are for health-care education. Nickell said she hopes the Pam Porter Fund develops into an endowment, which will allow the money to grow and last a longer period of time.
Bobby simply described the family's reason for establishing the fund, saying "Our family will forever be grateful for the kindness and compassion Pam was shown at McCullough-Hyde."
After the fund was established, Karen and Bobby had to decide what to do with the money. So they sat down with Hellard, Nickell and Sharon Klein, the director of community and employee wellness at MHMH, to brainstorm possibilities. Out of that meeting came the idea to have a picnic for oncology patients, their families and families of those who have lost loved ones to cancer.
"Ideally the fund would address needs of cancer patients at the oncology clinic," Nickell said. "Needs are varied depending on the patient, but it could be purchasing a wig for someone who's gone through chemo or giving a patient a sunshine basket with items such as food or a CD that will give them emotional support. The family picnic idea will hopefully continue, especially for families who bond. There are social and emotional needs that patients, families and staff need to reconnect in a positive setting so I think this picnic will be repeated annually."
As the planning for the picnic evolved, it was decided the picnic would be held in conjunction with a home Miami soccer game, as Bobby has been the head coach at Miami for 30 years. But not only is Bobby connected to Miami's soccer program, so is Pam, making the picnic all the more fitting. While a student at Miami, Pam served as the media relations contact for the program for two years, working with the media and publicizing the team.
"When patients are here (at MHMH), they bring their family and the families get to know each other because they see each other usually on a weekly basis. They tend to form a bond," Hellard said. "I think Bobby and Karen wanted to know what happened to those families and how those families are dealing with things. I think that is why they liked the idea of a family picnic to celebrate the people that are still here with us and then also to remember the people that aren't here with us and reconnect to see how the families are doing."
The picnic has been scheduled for Sunday, September 23 at the Miami Soccer Field and coincides with the RedHawks' match against Buffalo at 1 p.m. Over 1,000 invitations were recently sent out to current and past patients over the last three years of the MHMH oncology department as well as to families who have lost a family member due to cancer within that time.
The oncology unit at MHMH treats all sorts of patients, whether it's those in remission that come in every few months or once a year, to those that are actively fighting their cancer and come in weekly or even daily. Regardless of who is at the picnic, when a family decides to hold such an event and create a fund in someone's memory, it's also a positive sign for the oncology staff at MHMH.
"It just means we are doing what we should be doing," Hellard suggests. "When after a patient passes the family thinks 'You know what, they took care of our family member so we want to give them some money so we can pass it on to other patients and other families'. I just want to be compassionate and treat people with respect and compassion. It's not a good time, but we try to make the best that we can. Sometimes a friendly smile goes a long way."
With the tight-knit, small oncology unit that MHMH has, the picnic will allow patients to get out of the hospital and see each other in a different setting while also allowing families to reconnect and support each other.
"Patient-wise I think it's good for them since they're going through fatigue, nausea and depression because this isn't where you ever expect your life to be. It's good to give the patients the opportunity to see people not in the clinic setting. They get to see them as a person, not as a patient, and also see each other with their families," Hellard explained. "I also think it will be good for families that have had people pass, like Bobby and Karen, since they may run into families and maybe even patients they saw at the clinic when (Pam) was getting treated."
Klein added that the picnic isn't just for the patients.
"I think as they (families) develop a comradery and develop support systems when they are getting cancer treatment, it's just another way to provide support," she said of the picnic. "When you have people with like illnesses or like crises in their life they are able to talk about what their needs are and people share suggestions for different things that they have come across. They talk while they get treatments but they don't have it outside of the oncology unit and we just think it's a good way for them to get together."
Not only are the patients and their families looking forward to the picnic, but so are Miami's soccer team and the staff of the oncology unit at MHMH.
"It is an honor for Miami Soccer to be hosting a picnic like this. It is a great opportunity for all of us to engage and meet new people from the community," senior captain Jess Kodiak said. "By hosting both past and present cancer patients, this certainly serves as a reminder that there is more to life than just playing soccer. Hosting this picnic is hopefully just the beginning of a bond between Miami Soccer and McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital."
"We're really excited and I think our physicians and our nursing staff is really going to be supportive of it," Klein concluded.