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LemonAide: Brightening Patients' Lives Through Personal Gifts

By Mignon Fogarty

Holly Gautier
Cancer Concierge Services director Holly Gautier says the program’s “Personally Yours” philosophy provides support for patients and their families through every step of their experience.

 

In the most difficult days of his chemotherapy for stage-four colon cancer, Stanford patient Gary Grandmaison was asked what his last wish might be. He answered, “Aside from getting better, playing golf with Tiger Woods.”

Such a wish is exactly twhat the Stanford Cancer Center's LemonAide fund exists to fulfill.

The donor-funded program, founded in late 2002 by three Stanford medical fellows – Jane Huang, Alice Fan and Alison Spence – aims to recognize recipients as whole people, not just ailing patients, and to ease the mental and emotional suffering that can come with cancer.

LemonAide’s gift recipients are nominated by physicians, nurses, and social workers at the Cancer Center. Cancer Concierge Services then selects awardees based on such factors as the impact of the gift, the mental and emotional suffering of the patient, and financial need.

Personally Yours

Although the gifts distributed by LemonAide vary widely, they are tied together by what Cancer Concierge Services director Holly Gautier calls the program’s “Personally Yours” philosophy of providing support for patients and their families through every step of their experience. “The founders wanted patients to feel hope, and to know the respect we have for each patient as an individual,” Gautier says.

Dr. Huang, one of the founders, wanted to connect more with the non-clinical side of the patients with whom she was spending so many hours in treatment. As doctors in training, the founders wanted to give back to the patients who had taught them so much. In addition to supporting and uplifting patients in ways beyond the clinical programs that  provide essentials like medicine and supplies, they envisioned a way to help the doctors get to know their patients deeper than just the clinical level.

“You got to know a different side of them, the human side, when you figured out the gift and what they are interested in and their hobbies,” Huang says.

Valuing Family

Although it may seem surprising for an adult wish-granting program, many of the gifts LemonAide arranges are family trips to Disneyland. “The most heartbreaking patients are the ones that have kids that are very young. So it's very touching to see that what the parents want is to bring their kids to Disneyland so they can share it with them,” says Huang. 

Many unique gifts have also been granted over the years. “There was a patient having a difficult time, who really liked the latest electronic gadgets. That was when the iPod first came out; at that time they were very expensive and nobody had one. So LemonAide  gave him an iPod so he could download his favorite tunes and fill his days with music,” says Gautier.

Another recipient was able to bring her adult children in from Wisconsin to enjoy a family evening at the play Beach Blanket Babylon. For another gift, a young mother with breast cancer was able to spend a weekend at Marine World with her daughter that included a visit to the shark tunnel, a hands-on lesson about stingrays, and a behind-the-scenes tour showing how the handlers train sea lions.

Gautier isn't surprised that so many of the gifts revolve around families, because as she says,  “Cancer is really a family diagnosis.”

Extending LemonAide's Reach Through Cancer Concierge Services
           
Although LemonAide has always been a non-profit, volunteer organization, it operated independently, with the help of late patient Scott Martin, until it was rolled into the larger Cancer Concierge Services in late 2005.  Although volunteers such as the founding fellows balanced LemonAide work with their full-time, demanding jobs, Huang characterized the experience as thoroughly rewarding. “When we give a gift, I feel like I have helped to treat the whole person, and not just the cancer,” Huang says.

Growing LemonAide

Many patients who were helped by LemonAide recover from their cancer and return to contribute to the program’s continued operation. Although Tiger Woods was not available, Grandmaison was able to fulfill his golfing dream by playing with Barry Bonds.  He went on to recover from the cancer and now helps to grant other patients’ wishes through his work on the annual Fore the Care Golf Tournament.  The charity event, attended by celebrities, patients and donors, is Cancer Concierge Services' primary annual fundraiser.

"It's an amazing gift, life. I'm going to use that gift to make sure as many people as possible know about this program, and do whatever I can to ensure its long-term viability," Grandmaison said.

Although LemonAide currently grants one or two wishes each month, additional funding would allow it to do much more. As with all of Cancer Concierge Services, LemonAide is funded entirely by donations.

If you would like to make a donation that can help an adult cancer patient's wish come true, contact Holly Gautier at 650-725-9481 or

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