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2009 Lane Adams Quality of Life Award Recipients

Heidi Adams
Founder, PlanetCancer.org, Austin, Texas
Heidi helps give young adults with cancer a voice at a very difficult time in their lives in the form of Planet Cancer. This irreverent online community provides young adults in their 20s and 30s who have cancer with a place where they can let go, laugh, find the support they need, and address the special needs of young adults. A fellow cancer survivor says Heidi “changes lives every day by helping people get stronger, look this beast in the face, and be able to laugh – and live – again . . . To us, the ability to laugh meant that we had not let the gravity of our situation crush our spirits. We were deadly serious about laughing, because every laugh was an affirmation of life.”

Daniel Armstrong, PhD
Pediatric Psychologist, University of Miami, Miami, Florida
Dr. Armstrong is a champion of children. Says one parent, whose son Danny treated, “It was evident to us that Dr. Armstrong had a passion for working with kids who had cancerous brain tumors in their early years because his insight was – and is – always on the mark . . . I can truly say that Dr. Armstrong has – in a strong way – saved our son’s life.”

Bernie Axenfeld
Volunteer patient navigator, Syracuse New York
In his role as a volunteer patient navigator, Bernie often sits with patients and their families during treatment. He also gives them his phone number, saying they can call him anytime, day or night, if they want to talk. Having cared for and lost his wife, raised four young children, and then having been diagnosed with cancer himself, it’s clear that Bernie can say with conviction “I know what you’re going through.” Bernie would always say, ‘There is a light at the end of this tunnel, I promise.’

Tina Cull, RN, BSN, CHPN
Palliative care coordinator, Carolinas Medical Center, Concord, North Carolina.
Known as the nurse with a heart as well as a laugh, Tina connects with people with cancer and their families in a way that few people can, according to a coworker at Carolinas Medical Center. “She provides them with peace and compassion. I have seen a look of terror and hopelessness on the face of a newly diagnosed patient turn into a look of relief and acceptance when Tina calmly begins to present the patient’s options.”

Karline Peal, RT (T), MBA
Administrative Director, Center for Advanced Radiation Medicine, Lake, Illinois.
Karline has worked tirelessly to improve the care of patients – not just in her own department, but throughout the hospital and in the surrounding communities. Karline and her team treat patients with such respect and compassion that, as one colleague says, “It makes the long weeks of radiotherapy into an event that most patients are genuinely sorry to complete.”

Haley Schwartz, Esq.
Attorney, Atlanta Legal Aid, Atlanta, Georgia
Is the creator and director of the Breast Cancer Legal Project of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, which provides free civil legal services to low-income breast cancer patients and survivors in the metro Atlanta area. She advises people on the real and practical issues facing cancer patients including health and disability insurance coverage issues, employment rights and debt relief, estate planning, guardianship for children, and end-of-life decision-making. Recognizing that many women diagnosed with advanced breast cancer were in dire need of assistance with disability applications – and often didn’t have the strength to deal with the disability bureaucracy – Haley rallied other attorneys in Atlanta to help her aid these women with their applications so their claims could be fast-tracked and they could start receiving income.

Mary Sharpe O’Donnell, RN, MHM
Palliative care specialist, Hospice By the Seas, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Being the first at anything is never easy. When Mary O’Donnell first introduced the concept of a hospice program in her community of Broward County, Florida, in the 1970s, she overcame enormous opposition – from both the medical community and the community at large – to any public discussion of cancer and acceptance of the dying process.

Sandy Chen Stokes, RN, MSN
Geriatric Nurse-Specialist, Chinese American Coalition for Cancer Care
Facing the end of a life is never easy, but Sandy Chen Stokes noticed many Chinese American patients and their loved ones in her California community faced an additional challenge: a lack of culturally and language appropriate resources. Sandy formed the Chinese American Coalition for Compassionate Care. As the only organization in the nation devoted to end-of-life concerns in the Chinese community, the Coalition serves as a model for other efforts throughout the nation and promotes diversity and cultural sensitivity in end-of-life care.

Father Tom Johns
Pastor, St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Mentor, Ohio
Throughout his own diagnosis and surgery for lung cancer in 2001, Father Tom offered others facing cancer a shoulder to lean on through prayer and hope, according to one of his parishioners. And after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007, Father Tom became a walking billboard for Man to Man, the American Cancer Society community-based education and support program for men with the disease.

Mark Johnson, MD
Medical Director, Hospice of North Iowa, Mason City, Iowa.
In the early 1980s, the organization was made up of a small group of community-based volunteers. Today, Hospice of North Iowa, which is still under his leadership, has more than 100 employees and serves 16 counties in the area. A former colleague concludes that “Mark has met these patients at their level of need, time and time again – whether they are at home, in a clinic or hospital, or in the hospice in-patient unit. What sets him apart is his gift of relieving not just physical discomfort, but also the emotional and spiritual pain that so often accompanies a terminal illness.”

Britta Newcomer, RN, BSN, OCN
Oncology community outreach nurse Memorial Health System’s Cancer Center, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
In Britta’s passion to provide holistic care to people with cancer, she began her hospital’s Oncology Complementary Care Program in 2000, a pioneering effort indeed. A coworker says at a time when patients were searching for additional help, “Britta researched best practices for oncology patients and created a stellar program aimed at providing healing for body, mind, and spirit. Today, the cancer program provides a multitude of therapies, including healing touch, reiki, acupuncture, massage, and healing through music, pets, and art. This level of program is usually only found at a university setting.”

Kathryn Visneski, RN, MSN, APN, AOCN
Oncology nurse, Wellmont Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport, Tennessee.
Accepting a short-term position working in an oncology office in 1982, she thought she could make it for three months if she really put her mind to it. Twenty-seven years later, she is described by a colleague as “The model oncology nurse that leading health care organizations want and need to be the face of their oncology program.” Colleagues say they often find her making encouraging phone calls to patients, families, and support group members and staff; giving hand-held angels to comfort grieving families; or sending notes of encouragement. Knowing that many new oncology nurses face the same fears she initially experienced, Kathy also leads the center’s oncology nurse mentoring program.

Dr. Hen-Vai Wu, MD, FACP
Oncologist/hematologist, Somerset Medical Center’s Steeplechase Cancer Center, Somerville, New Jersey
One patient describes Dr. Wu’s demeanor as a “steady blend of honesty, hope, and support “ – a combination that helped her through her initial denial and anger at hearing , at age 26, that she had cancer. She says she “was angry, stubborn and terrified –, not an easy patient” when she met Dr. Wu. He reached out to her, helping her to accept her diagnosis and “redirect my energies from anger and fear to determination and strength.”

Page Tolbert, LCSW
Social worker, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
To help address critical patient needs, Page has facilitated groups for women, young adults, pediatric cancer survivors, and those with advanced illness, and is heading a hospital-wide initiative that will address the psychosocial needs of people with chronic cancer. She fosters bonds between patients, and quite frequently, say colleagues, survivors keep in touch with her long after they have finished their treatment because “she has that gift of making people feel comfortable and profoundly understood.”

Robert W. Stone, RN
Registered nurse, Carilion Clinic at Roanoke Memorial Hospital, Roanoke, Virginia.
What strikes many people about Robert is that he takes time to sit down and get to know his patients and their families, which is often difficult to do in the fast-paced world of health care. One patient’s wife says the last few days of her husband’s life seemed very “natural” because Robert had prepared the family for exactly what to expect as the disease progressed to its conclusion. “Things worked just the way he said they would, so there were no surprises,” she says.