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David Card: Relay gives nurse new ways to care

Madelyn Breen is one of many volunteers who make the Relay for Life of Hampshire County possible.

Madelyn Breen is one of many volunteers who make the Relay for Life of Hampshire County possible. Purchase photo reprints »

Breen has an extensive background in cancer care, having served as a nurse for 42 years, the last 16 in the Cancer Care program at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton.

While she claims she’s retired, Breen continues to work as needed about four days a week, sometimes five, splitting time between Cooley’s cancer care program and local Northampton oncologists’ offices.

As a part of the team at Cooley Dickinson, Breen says she enjoys working towards her patients’ recovery, linking them to help through her connections throughout the cancer community. She was key in securing Cooley Dickinson as a Relay corporate event sponsor when the event began. This year, the hospital increased its annual donation to the American Cancer Society from $5,000 to $10,000, and that helps support patients.

“We continue to support the American Cancer Society as their programs, services, educational materials and clinical research benefit Cooley Dickinson’s patients and families,” said Mary Ellen Walsh, director of the hospital’s Cancer Care program.

Breen said she wants patients to know they’re not alone. “People are willing to help them get through this. It’s scary. It’s overwhelming for them.”

“They are admirable and courageous,” Breen said of her patients and those she has cared for, including a longtime friend who died after a 10-year battle with cancer. “The strength and motivation they show makes me a better person and thankful for what I have.”

At Relay events, Breen gets to reconnect with former patients. “It’s good to see familiar faces, and it’s good to see them doing well.” Their courage gives her the strength to stay involved. She enjoys setting up the event and seeing it come together — helping people move gear to their campsites, folding T-shirts, or just greeting people. The event fields more than 100 teams a year and is one of the top 15 Relays in fundraising in New England.

Breen has seen the Relay grow and believes wholeheartedly in the benefits of the ACS, which raises funds to research the causes of cancer.

“It has grown to be a big part of my life,” said Breen, who lost her father to lung cancer in 1984. Beginning as a team member and then a team captain, Breen’s involvement with Hampshire County’s Relay has grown, serving as the event co-chair for three years. In 2012 the cancer society presented her with the Volunteer Community Partner Award of Western Massachusetts.

“People in the community are more aware of the fight and come out to support it,” said Breen. “It is amazing to see people put their heart and soul into an event like this. People come together, and it makes it fun. It’s more than just raising money. The biggest message is that there is hope.”

To learn more about this year’s Relay, visit www.relayforlife.org/hampshirecountyma.

David Card is a junior at Westfield State University.

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