PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A ceremony was held Thursday at The Aroostook Medical Center dedicating an entire wall to a yearlong collaborative effort between four Aroostook County newspapers and the hospital to recognize area cancer survivors.
With a brush stroke of pink paint, leaders of TAMC and representatives for the weekly newspapers officially marked the creation of a permanent place to honor those who fight cancer in the region.
The County Cancer Hall of Courage — a joint project of TAMC, The Star-Herald, Aroostook Republican, Houlton Pioneer Times and Fiddlehead Focus — is located at the A.R. Gould Memorial Hospital in Presque Isle in the corridor that leads to TAMC’s Aroostook Cancer Care. In the coming year, stories and photos of cancer survivors from throughout Aroostook will be gathered by TAMC and the four papers and featured at the facility and in print and online by the media entities.
“Imagine hearing the words ‘You have cancer,’” said Lynn Lombard, chair of TAMC’s Board of Trustees, who provided the opening remarks. “Too many have heard them. They hit close to home here at the cancer center. We wanted to create a space that would inspire hope to help patients muster the strength and courage to fight the battle of their lives.”
“All of us here at TAMC are keenly aware of how cancer touches most everyone in The County,” said Sylvia Getman, TAMC president and CEO. “We all know someone who’s had cancer or has been a caregiver. I’ve seen how communities come together to support people in those fights, pooling resources and providing support.
“As the most comprehensive cancer care provider in northern Maine, we see it each and every day,” Getman continued. “We also hear regularly through our media partners about cancer’s impact on the lives of County people and how others rally to support them through benefit fundraisers and in other ways. We envision the County Cancer Hall of Courage serving as both an inspiration and encouragement for those who fight cancer and for those who serve as their support network.”
The TAMC president and CEO credited the hospital’s four newspaper partners for coming “together to share stories, highlight courage and give inspiration.
“They’ll be gathering stories and photos, sharing them online, in the newspapers and here in our hall,” said Getman, who also acknowledged hospital staff for coming together every day to “provide hope, strength and encouragement to patients and their loved ones.”
Advertising salesman Gary Bowden spoke on behalf of his newspaper, The Star-Herald, and its sister papers, the Aroostook Republic and Houlton Pioneer Times.
“We are so pleased to join with TAMC in this most meaningful project. All three of our papers here in The County, as well as Fiddlehead Focus in the St. John Valley, take great pride in telling the stories of the place we are all proud to call home,” said Bowden. “We join with TAMC in asking the people of The County to share their stories of overcoming and beating cancer so that we can print them and they can be featured in this Hall of Courage to positively impact the lives of others.”
Bowden said that a pink page will be inserted into the newspaper representing Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, with stories and photos of a survivor published each month following that. Plans are to honor 12 County cancer survivors — one each month — over the coming year, beginning with a breast cancer survivor in October. Survivors of various types of cancer will be featured, once monthly, in the three Northeast Publishing papers and in print and online with Fiddlehead Focus. Large prints of the survivor stories and their photos will be hung monthly in the County Cancer Hall of Courage, with the frame holding each photo painted the color recognized as representative of the form of cancer the survivor beat.
“We’re thrilled to be a part of this,” said Bowden.
Lombard said she looked forward to seeing the pink supplement with the first feature in early October.
Andrew Birden, publisher of Fiddlehead Focus, said he was pleased cancer patients from The St. John Valley would be included in the project.
“We look forward to sharing these survivor stories with our readers, both in print and online,” said Birden. “All one needs to do is to look at the statistics to see that cancer impacts so many in our area. This is a great initiative that we hope will encourage people afflicted with cancer to fight the good fight and others to see their doctor regularly, as early detection makes all the difference.”
Brenda Baker, Aroostook Cancer Care manager, said it was a honor to be able to recognize those she and her staff work with every day.
“This hall will be a great inspiration. There’s no question cancer touches all our lives,” said Baker, noting some of the latest statistics.
Baker said the County cancer numbers are “quite startling.”
“According to the State Cancer Profiles Incident Rates Report, Aroostook County averaged more than 470 new incidents of cancer annually between 2005 and 2009. In 2011, the number of new cancer patients seen by TAMC’s Aroostook Cancer Care numbered 223. Of that number, 47 were diagnosed with breast cancer, 45 with lung cancer and 24 with colon cancer,” said Baker.
In addition to recognizing survivors, TAMC officials plan to add a section to the County Cancer Hall of Courage dedicated to honoring those who fought the disease but did not make it. A section in memory of County residents who passed away from cancer is expected to be introduced at a celebration honoring the 12 survivors after they have been featured over the next year.
“We all want to see a cure for this horrible disease that has claimed far too many lives,” said Baker. “In this fitting place, by the entrance of where our medical professionals work hand in hand, day in, day out, with those fighting to beat cancer, we will establish a fitting place to pay tribute to our County friends and neighbors who have courageously battled cancer.”
Lombard said the corridor that leads into Aroostook Cancer Care is part of the building known as the East Wing Annex. The lengthy hallway, which connects that building to the main part of TAMC’s A.R. Gould Memorial Hospital, formerly extended to connect the hospital to the Presque Isle Nursing Home. It has ample natural daylight from large windows that overlook the hospital’s main entrance on one side and an outdoor courtyard on the other.
Participants gathered around the frame, taking turns applying pink paint to the frame that will display the first survivor. The color represents Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which falls in October, when the first photo and story will be posted.
“Pink is also such a mood enhancer. How can you not feel positive energy when you see pink?” asked Getman.
“So many people have been touched by cancer. It’s great to be able to share their stories and acknowledge their courage, in hopes of inspiring others to not give up,” Getman said.
A form to help guide area residents in submitting cancer survivor stories is available on the TAMC website at www.tamc.org, as well as on the websites of each of the four partner papers. Printed forms or more information on the County Cancer Hall of Courage also can be obtained by calling TAMC’s Aroostook Cancer Care at 768-4151. To reach the Fiddlehead Focus, call 316-2243. To submit information to The Star-Herald, Aroostook Republican or Houlton Pioneer Times, call 768-5431.