MORRISTOWN, NJ – Strains of “Happy Birthday” filled the atrium recently at the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Morristown Medical Center. The occasion was the kick-off party to a month’s long celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the opening of the center.
Even before the song rang out, music filled the atrium, as it has for the past 17 years from 9 a.m. to noon every Wednesday, thanks to the Jeffrey Frank Wacks Memorial Fund. The music is part of what makes the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center unique – the center is designed to take care of not just the patients’ physical health, but their mind, body and spirit and, where possible, that of their caregivers, friends and family members.
The Wacks Memorial Fund’s “mission statement is: to provide emotional support for cancer patients and their caregivers that extends beyond normal boundaries.”
Linda Wacks said, “We started the Jeffrey Frank Wacks Memorial Fund in memory of our son in 1996.” That was the year Jeffrey, an artist, writer and musician, died of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He had been treated at Morristown Memorial Hospital and the fund’s first gift to the hospital was to refurbish the less than warm and welcoming Family Room on the Inpatient Oncology Unit, where Jeffrey stayed when he was in the hospital. The Family Room became a home away from home, where birthdays could be and were celebrated, family dinners held, and even a wedding.
Two years later, the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center opened and Mrs. Wacks met volunteers Jeanne Jaeckle, Judie Gerstein and Lisa DeRosa. Mrs. Jaeckle said, “We wanted to bring something special to the center, to make it easier for people to come here."
In 2000, the fund gave the center the Music in the Atrium program, featuring Bob Egan at the piano and in 2001, the Jeffrey Frank Wacks Music Therapy Program debuted. Coordinator of the program Leah Oswanski, works with outpatients and Music Therapist Erin Bolding works with inpatients who choose to participate in the program. They offer Healing through Drumming, Toning, Jazz on the Plaza, and other programs. In 2014, the program received a LiveSTRONG grant and 14 hospitals now have received grants to replicate the program at the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center.
The Simon Center offers an extensive array of mind body programs for patients – from Reiki, to healing touch, Jin Shin Jyutsu, Qigong, yoga, meditation, art therapy and healing through writing.
During the first of the many scheduled events to celebrate the center’s 20th anniversary, Egan was at his regular spot, at the keyboard of a baby grand piano, playing a wide variety of soothing music. Current and former patients, staff members and volunteers stopped by the piano to chat with him as he played, a few gave him a hug and still others waved as they passed through the atrium on their way to treatment, while others settled in to wait. There was coffee and tea, bagels and other light refreshments for everyone and volunteers managed the food.
When the official proceedings began, physicians, nurses, therapists and other staff members from throughout the center gathered in every nook and cranny of the atrium to hear comments from Dr. Eric Whitman, medical director of the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center, Lydia Nadeau, administrative director of Atlantic Health System Cancer Care and Missak Haigentz, MD, chief of hematology and oncology at Morristown Medical Center and medical director of Atlantic Hematology and Oncology for Atlantic Medical Group at the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center.
After their remarks, members of the Simon family, volunteers, doctors and other medical personnel, as well as current and former patients joined Jean Marie Rosone, a licensed social worker and coordinator of Oncology Integrative Medicine at Atlantic Health, as she sang “Happy Birthday” to the Simon Center.
When the singing ended, it was time to eat cake, talk to friends and colleagues, and memorialize the 2oth birthday with photos.
Other events planned to mark the 20th Anniversary of the Simon Center include: the grand opening of the Atlantic HPV Center; a symposium on Hereditary Cancer: Beyond the Risk; a Survivorship Symposium – Living With, Through, and Beyond; Free Oral, Head & Neck Cancer Screenings; a 20th Anniversary Mind Body Spirit Sampler; the 20th Anniversary Cancer Center Volunteers Recognition Lunch; the Simon Family Reception at the Simon Center and, a Head & Neck Cancer Physician Symposium.