Connecting over cancer: Cries, laughs at nonprofit’s Bed-In fundraiser

  • Tara Brewster raises money Friday afternoon for the Cancer Connection during a Bed-In at Greenfield Savings Bank in Hadley, talking with Lindsay Allen, an assistant branch manager in Hadley and Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chelsea Kline, executive director of the Cancer Connection, left, and Tara Brewster raise money for the nonprofit during a Bed-In at Greenfield Savings Bank in Hadley on Friday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

For the Gazette
Published: 9/8/2023 7:34:35 PM

HADLEY — Radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte may have passed the torch of running the annual Cancer Connection Bed-In, but he couldn’t resist making a splash during Tara Brewster’s first turn anchoring the fundraiser on Friday.

While Brewster underwent a costume change — one of many during the 12-hour livestream, an annual event that raises money to support the longtime nonprofit in its mission to help cancer patients and their families — Belmonte climbed into Brewster’s temporary bed at Greenfield Savings Bank, bursting from beneath the covers to surprise the new host.

“Can I make it rain on your bed?” asked Belmonte, who threw two $50 bills into the air while jumping on the mattress.

Belmonte’s surprise appearance helped set a jovial tone for the event, in which Brewster held livestreamed conversations about cancer with local business leaders from a fully furnished bedroom at the entrance of Greenfield Savings Bank.

“People have cried here today, people have laughed here today, people have told really true and honest stories,” Brewster said. “That’s what Cancer Connection is about.”

The nonprofit network offers free support groups for those impacted by cancer, and some Cancer Connection volunteers — called Befrienders — offer one-on-one, candid conversations with clients. For many cancer patients, talking to a neutral party allows them to be upfront with the hardships of illness, Brewster said.

“A lot of people that are going through a cancer diagnosis don’t necessarily want to share their true feelings with their family,” Brewster said. “They want to be protective of who’s caring for them and be really cognizant of not being an additional burden.”

For years, Belmonte spurred listeners to donate to the nonprofit during unconventional marathon broadcasts, first as part of a campout in front of the Northampton courthouse downtown, before the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to change the format to a Bed-In from his home and from Hotel Northampton.

When Belmonte announced he would leave WRSI 93.9 The River for 88.5 NEPM last year, he tapped Brewster to put her own spin on the Bed-In fundraising challenge. This year the Bed-In moved to Greenfield Savings in Hadley, where Brewster works.

In between conversations on Friday, Brewster invited the band Winterpill to play an acoustic set for listeners. Afterward, band member Phillip Price shared memories of his father’s experience with cancer.

“I wish my dad had had something like this,” said Price, whose father ultimately died from cancer.

Cancer Connection Executive Director Chelsea Kline said that many people from across the country call her organization seeking similar services wherever they live.

“I joke that we should franchise ourselves and spread around the world and help people because the need is so great,” Kline said.

Cancer Connection established a $50,000 fundraising goal for the broadcast, asking supporters to drop off donations in person or call their facility in Northampton. Kline’s mother fielded calls, 18 years after accessing services from Cancer Connection while she underwent treatment for breast cancer.

“One of our board members says the mission is magic, and it really is true. It’s something that people can agree on,” Kline said. “When groups in businesses or schools get together to vote on how they want their fundraising dollars to go, they can agree on Cancer Connection.”


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