Pavers for Patients

How two dedicated nurses chose to honor the patients they have loved and lost

There was a period of time, not all that long ago, when Joy Reichenberg had a standing date with a bowl of Cheerios and a cancer patient named Mary.

Mary was known to be quiet and reserved. She didn’t open up easily to the team at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center. But Reichenberg — a nurse in the Family Care Center — kept encouraging her to connect.

Over time, Reichenberg started to notice that every morning, around 3 a.m., Mary would be wide awake, relatively free from pain and quite hungry. In that early morning hour, she saw an opportunity to connect.

“Every shift, for a couple of months, I would go into her room at 3 a.m. and feed her Cheerios. I got to where I would make sure all my work was done so that 3 a.m. was sacred for my Mary time,” Reichenberg said. “We talked through a lot of the things she was trying to process — the things she needed to work through in order to pass away peacefully.”

Telling Mary’s story still brings Reichenberg to tears, and it’s part of what inspired her to put together a fundraising event specifically to honor Mary and two other women who passed away recently in her unit, Julie and Willa. Called Pavers for Patients, the event was designed to raise enough funds to purchase commemorative pavers to be installed in the Hurley Healing Garden located within the new Novant Health Wallace Cancer Institute, which celebrated its grand opening on Aug. 12.

When Reichenberg approached her nurse manager, Jennifer Payne, with the concept, Payne agreed immediately.

“It touched my heart that someone from my unit wanted to honor these ladies. Our patients so often become part of our family,” Payne said. 

Julie had been one of Payne’s nurses for a time, and the entire team had rallied around her care before she passed. Willa had been a patient several times over, and the team took special steps to ensure her family could visit despite the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I can remember coming back up here at night and spending time with Willa because visitors weren’t allowed, and we would just talk. It was a blessing in my life to be able to help with that transition,” Payne said.

The Pavers for Patients event raised $950, through a bake sale and massages provided by Reichenberg over the course of the event, which was designed with safety foremost in mind. Families and team members came out in force to support the effort, making sure to comply with social distancing requirements and other pandemic-related precautions.

“I think Joy’s fingers about fell off that night. There was never a lull of people waiting for Joy to relieve tension and stress from their shoulders,” Payne said. “We just kept watching the donations increase, and some people gave just because our effort meant a lot to them, too.”

Reichenberg agreed.

“I loved being able to care for our team members with those massages. That was this huge bonus of being able to care for so many of our team members and educate them on our losses,” she said.

Now, the names of all three women will be engraved on pavers in the Hurley Healing Garden, which patients can see from the 20 chemotherapy rooms inside the new Wallace Cancer Institute. The idea to offer chemotherapy with a beautiful view came from Tippie Miller, a longtime volunteer with Rowan Medical Center and a driving force behind the entire institute. When Miller received her cancer treatment at Carolina Oncology Associates, her room looked right into a brick wall. She knew cancer patients deserved better. Now, with the new Wallace Cancer Institute, they have it.

“We’re excited to have this amazing cancer center built on our campus and to know that people will have a beautiful view while they receive their treatment,” Payne said. “It’s so important we have this for our community, and I know Mary, Julie and Willa are probably looking down and thinking this is going to be amazing for other cancer patients.”

The Novant Health Wallace Cancer Institute was made possible through the generous contributions of donors like you.

You can continue supporting our efforts to bring remarkable care to the communities we serve with a donation to the Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Foundation. Do your part and provide support today.

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