WEST ORANGE, NJ — In an effort to raise funds for renovations and meaningful programs and amenities in Radiation Oncology and Medical Oncology at Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC), the third-annual Reason to Rock event at Crestmont Country Club on Thursday raised more than $300,000 benefiting Comfort Project 360 (CP360).
CP360, which is on a mission to help create the most supportive and healing environment for patients and their families at all SBMC cancer centers, has raised nearly $1.5 million since it was founded by Livingston residents Hyla Weiss and Suzanne Unger three years ago. Both co-founders said they were uncertain whether anyone would join their mission at the time and are now overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.
“When we started Comfort Project 360, we knew that the journey that patients and their families are going through during this time is a difficult one,” said Unger. “There’s a whole other aspect that goes into the struggle that the patients and their families are going through—that’s environment. It’s small touches that make a difference during their visits.”
Before 2016 Inspirational Journey Award Recipient Shari-Beth Susskind could finish her speech on Thursday, one unidentified guest donated $35,000 to the cause—covering the total renovation of one of 23 new infusion rooms in the Medical Oncology department at SBMC. In addition to hearing Susskind’s and other survivors’ stories, a live auction and raffle prizes inspired many other guests to donate throughout the evening.
Susskind, a survivor of both ovarian and breast cancer, has devoted her life to helping others achieve their potential and has done so in recent years by starting her own business and creating a 5K run/walk benefiting National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) through her team, “Team Suss and Us.”
In 2015, knowing that she needed radiation, Susskind decided to attend the Reason to Rock event and was immediately impressed by the high energy of the event and the support she felt from those involved. Defining “inspiration” as a “person, place or experience that makes someone want to do or create something,” Susskind said she got involved with the NOCC because she felt like she had a voice to speak for those who can’t.
“I can’t cure cancer, but what I can do is connect with an organization that has committed to create the most supportive and healing environment for patients and their loved ones,” she said. “As Comfort Project 360 enters the next phase of its mission to transform oncology care, the Cancer Center, where nearly 100 patients receive chemotherapy or infusions every day, will benefit from your generosity and will help make these and other improvements possible to enhance the mind-body connection.”
Susskind also acknowledged event chair Jane Wilf and her husband, Mark Wilf, who recently made a pledge of $250,000 to the medical center to name the Wilf Family Foundation treatment room in the radiation oncology department. Jane, one of Susskind’s closest friends, said that when she was approached by Dr. Alison Grann, chair of radiation oncology at SBMC, to participate in her department at Saint Barnabas, it was a “no-brainer.”
“It was easy because everybody wants to make somebody else feel just a little bit better and I know that whatever is happening in that department is making people’s lives a little better,” she said. “It’s very important to my husband and I to be part of our community and a part of Saint Barnabas. Right here in Livingston, we can make a difference with Comfort Project 360.”
Thanks to the Jane and Mark Wilf Family Foundation, Susskind said the Radiation Oncology Department—with breathtaking hallways, beautiful exam rooms, smiling staff members and warm robes provided by CP360—is the most beautiful one she’s ever seen.
Susskind accepted the Inspirational Journey Award in memory of both of her parents and her father-in-law and also thanked her husband, Jeff, their three sons and her mother-in-law for their love, kindness, patience and strength throughout her journey. She also thanked Reason to Rock event co-chairs Jodi Bloom, Cathy Levison and Wendy Marcus as well as the nearly 50 women on the event committee.
“You have inspired us tonight by putting together this beautiful event that will make the lives of cancer patients brighter,” said Susskind. “The people in this room inspire me every day—I have learned from them, cried with them and celebrated with them. I have been inspired with your kind words, love and support.”
Livingston Township Councilman Michael Silverman congratulated CP360 for its success and thanked the committee for creating this mission on behalf of the SBMC community.
“Comfort Project 360 is a great organization that is taking care of our people that have problems and shouldn’t have to worry about their creature comforts,” said Silverman. “Just knowing that they’re able to go to the hospital, do what they have to do and feel the warmth and love of the employees and nursing staff and be physically comfortable is everything.”
Funds raised at this event will help continue the programs CP360 has developed along with making the environment in medical oncology a more comfortable and better experience for patients and their families. Weiss and Unger urged others to get involved in volunteering or donating to CP360.
“We have an amazing team and would like it to grow and encourage both men and women to join us since cancer touches all of us,” said Unger. “Comfort Project 360 is about all cancer patients.”
"I want to thank you for supporting this very meaningful project to change cancer care in our community," said Weiss. "I remember just three years ago being so worried that no one would believe in our idea—that no one would support us—and here we are, stuffed in this room together and the idea is a reality."