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When Kevin LeNeve was 15, he lost his cousin MacGyver to cancer.
MacGyver, an adolescent and young adult (AYA) patient, had just turned 16 and had hoped to get his driver's licence on his birthday. Kevin remembers how MacGyver had planned his own funeral – right down to the music that would be played.
This month, Kevin is celebrating his one-year anniversary as a radiation therapist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. It holds special meaning not only because MacGyver had hoped to become a radiation therapist, but on March 30, Kevin was awarded the Michael Kamin Hart Award for Excellence in Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology Care. Radiation therapy supervisor, Veng Chhin, nominated him.
Kevin shared the award with Wig Salon Specialist, Laurie Tucker, who was nominated by 17-year-old leukemia patient Adriana Lombardo, and cancer survivor and volunteer, Nina Betson.
"I've witnessed some truly remarkable interactions with Kevin and his adolescent and young adult patients," says Veng.
"As one therapist put it, 'Kevin is someone who can be seen eagerly looking at a patient's prom pictures, reminiscing about the theme of his own prom, or empathizing with a patient over college exam stress."
Adriana fondly refers to Laurie as her "honourary auntie".
"When I visit Laurie in the wig salon, she reminds me that I'm just another teenage girl going through a hurdle in my life," says Adriana.
"She doesn't treat you like a cancer patient – she treats you as an equal. You just feel like you're in a regular salon – and we spend the whole time laughing!"
In memory of Michael Kamin Hart
Michael Kamin Hart was a promising second-year Masters student at McMaster University. Vibrant, intelligent and compassionate, he was diagnosed with lymphoma and passed away on June 5, 2011 at the age of 25.
On March 30, 2015, as part of Adolescent and Young Adults Cancer Awareness Week, the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre hosted its second annual lectureship in honour of Michael. His family wished to recognize Princess Margaret staff members who provided them with comfort during Michael's cancer journey. In addition to receiving awards at the lectureship, Laurie and Kevin each received $1,000 to recognize their exceptional work with AYA patients.
Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Oncology program at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre provides personalized, supportive, non-medical care for patients 39 and under.
Young adult patients often have different needs and concerns than older patients. Their needs may be related to fertility preservation and risks, sexuality and sexual health, school and work transitions, social relationships, nutrition, and exercise.
"I'm so overwhelmed with gratitude. I feel so lucky to work with these young patients. Not having children of my own, I'm very close with my nieces and nephews – and AYA patients have become a part of my little group," says Laurie.
The wig salon at the Princess Margaret carries hats, wigs, scarves and accessories for patients. Laurie books time with patients to find the perfect wig or accessory to make them feel comfortable during treatment.
As a 27-year-old, Kevin also understands the needs of this group as he can relate to the milestones and life events his patients are currently experiencing. His treatment unit also sees pediatric patients from the Hospital for Sick Children.
"I have many patients in their 20s, the same age as me, that are planning their weddings, arranging tux and dress fittings and getting married. I'm inspired by their strength."
"This is a very unique population with a specialized set of needs – they are building self-esteem, dealing with their careers and coping with the stressors of everyday life. It's our job to make their experience as comfortable and be as supportive as possible."
Congratulations to all nominees of the Michael Kamin Hart Award for Excellence in Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology Care!
Norma D'Agostino – Psychologist
Nominated by a patient
"Learning to handle grief is a very difficult emotion. Dr. D'Agostino taught me many ways to show and handle grief. Write a letter, write a card, go to the funeral for closure. Cry! She is a wonderful person and doctor and friend. I wouldn't be where I am in my life without her help."
Geremy Capone – Wellness Chef and Christy Brissette – Registered Dietitian
Nominated by their manager
"Geremy translates his culinary prowess and creativity to bite-sized instructions that disarm those who are afraid or uninterested in cooking, and brings a smile across the faces of those who simply wanted to laugh and taste delicious samples."
"Christy decodes complex nutritional information into everyday tips and strategies that subliminally build your confidence in making healthy choices. Together, they create an environment where young adults come not only to learn, but also escape from cancer and its treatment."
Susan Awrey – Pediatric Radiation Nurse Coordinator
Nominated by a physician "She sees the patients and families every day during their treatment and organizes distractions and a reward system to help them through. At the end of treatment, Susan organizes a small gift not only for the patient but also their families. She gets to know each patient personally and takes great care to remember details that are important to them such as birthdays, pets names etc."
Pernille Pederson – Nurse, Ambulatory Care
Nominated by a co-worker
"Pernille takes 'the bull by the horns' and goes from A to Z leaving no questions unanswered for the patients – putting orders into the computer, booking follow-up appointments with the physician, updating patients personally, and then advising her team and physicians that everything has been done."
Valerie Bowering – Nurse, Clinical Trials, Drug Development Program
Nominated by a co-worker
"In the past year, Val has been the primary nurse in charge of a young patient's clinical trial. She has taken this young woman and her family under her very gentle wing. She has encouraged the patient to take as much control of her life as possible, knowing how difficult it can be especially for a younger patient undergoing the stress of treatment and loss of independence."
Sarah Wood – Social Worker
Nominated by a patient
"For several years, I have been unable to produce a cycle on my own, and following numerous tests at this clinic, it appears my fertility is quickly declining. This is where Sarah steps in. Although she had not known me during the time of my treatment, she worked tirelessly to seek funding options that might help me. It is because of Sarah's unwavering commitment, compassion, and humility that I am nominating her today and thinking of her often."
Ai Tanimizu – RN, Clinical Nurse Coordinator, Department of Breast Surgery
Nominated by a patient
"Everyone needs a cancer buddy. Someone who has the medical knowledge, but who can also act as a guiding hand through the crazy world of cancer. Ai not only exemplifies the best of what the health care system should be; she is also my cancer buddy."
Sharmy Savanantham – Nurse Practitioner, Rapid Diagnostic Breast Clinic
Nominated by a patient"Sharmy stands out in my mind as one member of my health care team that really understood that being a young adult with cancer requires a little extra care. Distress related to prognosis, career challenges, financial stress, and impact on friends and family all seem to be heightened in someone my age. Sharmy's caring approach, innovative method of support, and excellence in care really made a difference for me."