Last year, I was playing golf with a friend, Bruce Yablon, when the subject of Northern Westchester Hospital came up. Bruce was on the Board of Trustees and I was telling him I had recently interviewed and written an article about Marian Hamilton, the founder of the hospital’s Ken Hamilton Caregiver Center, which is a wonderful resource for family caregivers of the hospital’s patients.
In between some less than stellar golf shots (mine, not Bruce’s) I learned the depth of Bruce’s involvement with the hospital went far beyond being a trustee. In fact, in 2011 Bruce and his wife Andrea, who personally committed to funding the startup of this project, and hospital management worked together to create and introduce what is now called The Bruce and Andrea Yablon Cancer Health and Wellness Program.
Observing the difficulty patients and their families have as they deal with cancer diagnosis and treatment, Bruce believed there was an opportunity to help patients beyond their primary medical treatment, by providing a range of health and wellness services designed to enhance a person’s well-being. Initially, Bruce was especially interested in the mental health of patients at a time when they were struggling to find an anchor and gain greater control over their lives.
To bring his vision to fruition, it would take a hospital with equal vision, and Northern Westchester Hospital, a Planetree Designated Hospital (https://www.planetree.org/who-we-are) with its patient-centered care and integrated-medicine philosophy, made the ideal partner.
What has resulted from his vision, together with strong support from a very special hospital and staff, is a truly remarkable program for oncology patients and their family members. Since 2011, the Program has delivered over 33,000 supportive therapies for patients and family members, during difficult physical and emotional times.
The Program’s focus is to support cancer patients by providing them with services designed to enhance each patient’s quality of life during their personal journey through cancer recovery; introducing them to tools and services through a uniquely integrated and holistic approach to patient life care.
The Program does all it can to eliminate barriers for patient participation and this starts with cost and eligibility. Amazingly, all services for patients and their family members are free during a patient’s participation in the Program. Any cancer patient is eligible if their physician has admitting rights to Northern Westchester Hospital. The hospital and Program do not require that a patient is being treated in the hospital. And, being sensitive as to when a patient feels they need support the most, patients have up to three years from the time of their diagnosis to participate in the Program.
From the first day, patients meet with the Program’s Patient Care Coordinator, Marilyn Leroy-Sterling. Marilyn, an oncology nurse by training, was the first full time Program employee. Marilyn works to better understand the needs of each patient and suggests the services and tools that may work best for them. These include nutrition counseling, physical fitness programing and monitoring, time with a psychologist, reflexology, meditation, yoga, tai chi, mindfulness sessions, messages, aroma and acupuncture therapies, pastoral care and participation in professionally monitored patient support groups. This is so important because many oncology patients, even those with strong support from family and friends, can feel very alone.
A wonderful benefit of the Program’s advantageous fee philosophy is many participants who would otherwise be resistant to try some of the services, such as acupuncture and meditation, which have strong track records for delivering physical and emotional relief for patients, are willing to give them a try with wonderful results.
Since inception, as you would expect, the response from Program participants has been overwhelmingly positive…
“There has been such a positive energy in a caring environment which started on day one and continued throughout my time there.”
“It is such an amazing gift to have so many resources available. It is so nice to come to acupuncture and not be stressed about the cost of it. The staff is caring and very personal.”
“There is such a positive energy in a caring environment, which started with my first meeting.”
“The wellness program has been such a big part of being well taken care of. Thanks a million to Bruce and Andrea Yablon for such a precious act of caring for others.”
The Program’s cornerstone attribute of “Caring for Others” did not go unnoticed by one of its patient’s children and what resulted is truly remarkable.
In 2016, Brandi Goldenberg was diagnosed with breast cancer and after surgery participated in the Program. Brandi’s son, Ben, who was 13 years old at the time, watched his mom go through her journey and was so thankful for all the help his mom received. Ben realized (yes, even at 13 years of age) that he wanted to do something for others. During this period of personal upheaval Ben made the decision that his Bar Mitzvah project was going to be raising money in an effort to help stop the suffering of others when going through an illness like his mom’s. Introducing Benny’s March Madness 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament.
Ben and his dad, Adam, with the help and support of the New Castle basketball program, organized a fund-raising basketball tournament and the results have been pure magic.
Since 2016 this annual tournament, now in its fourth year, has raised nearly $40,000, a staggering amount that clearly demonstrates the full support of a local community. Ben has contributed half of the proceeds to The Bruce and Andrea Yablon Cancer Health and Wellness Program and the other half to the hospital’s Breast Health Initiative for Underserved Women (Did I mention Ben was only 13?).
When I asked Ben what all this has meant to him, he quickly responded, “I feel very good because I am trying to make a difference. I felt what my mom and our family went through and wanted to help other kids in a similar situation.”
Making a Difference in the lives of patients and their families is the focus for Bruce and Andrea Yablon and Northern Westchester Hospital efforts. Having spoken with family caregivers whose loved ones are diagnosed with cancer, I found in most cases the entire family’s emotional stability is shaken. Just knowing there are people and resources available to help them find their emotional anchor is extremely comforting. Thankfully, programs like The Bruce and Andrea Yablon Cancer Health and Wellness Program address this and much, much more.
Paying It Forward, just three simple words, can go a long way to supporting these special communities. Bruce and Andrea have confirmed to me that while thinking about what you can do to help others is wonderful, taking action makes all the difference in the world. And, I am confident if we do, it will make us feel as good as a special 13-year-old!
Speaking of taking action, if you would like to find out more, or have questions about The Bruce and Andrea Cancer Health and Wellness Program (https://nwhc.net/about-us/patient-centered-care/cancer-health-and-wellness-program-2), just click this link. I guarantee this action will deliver wonderful results.
Help yourself. Help others.