More than 20 years ago, Lowell General Hospital started an ambitious project. The hospital’s leadership wanted to bring the patient-centered, multidisciplinary approach to cancer care practiced by the major Boston teaching hospitals where it could be more conveniently accessed by the community.
Lowell General Hospital’s Cancer Center opened in 1998, and to celebrate it and raise money for the project, a gala was held at the Tsongas Arena that was extremely successful. It created a buzz, and former Lowell General executive Pat Crane saw an opportunity.
“We wanted to give the community a chance to participate and support the Cancer Center,” says Crane, who now lives in South Carolina but will be back as Honorary Chair this year.
Working with then-CEO Bob Donovan and a team of employees, TeamWalk for CancerCare was born. Flyers went out advertising a 3-mile walk starting at Lowell General’s main campus. But this event would have one significant difference – all of the money would go back to patients in need.
One of the people who received a flyer was Amy Goad-Reidy. Her mother, Carol Goad, had been diagnosed with breast cancer the previous year, and was treated successfully at the new cancer center. Carol Goad still recalls the “wonderful” care she received, and feels blessed for her 14 grandchildren, nine of whom came after her breast cancer.
Goad-Reidy signed up, and TeamWalk became a tradition. For 19 years, she has shifted vacations and plans to join the walk. Over the years, she’s met many people on the route, but one story stood out – a husband and wife who were diagnosed with cancer at the same time. They fell behind on their bills, and TeamWalk funds helped them through.
“I live in gratitude. My mother is here and she’s OK,” Goad-Reidy says. “And after the people I’ve met, I know I’m in the right walk.”
Dr. Murat Anamur, who helped create the Cancer Center and is the longtime medical director, says the magic of TeamWalk is its ability to connect the community to the Cancer Center, which helps his team provide a higher level of care.
TeamWalk funds could cover the cost of transportation to an appointment, pay for a prescription before insurance kicked in, or fund a wig to help patients feel more like themselves during treatment.
“The social and emotional aspects of cancer care are extremely important,” Anamur says. “Without TeamWalk’s support, we could not provide this team approach to care.”
That first year, TeamWalk smashed expectations with more than $288,000 raised. The success prompted the city and hospital to work together to bring the event downtown to Tsongas Arena and add a 6-mile route.
As third-party events to support TeamWalk grew, in 2017 the event surpassed $1 million for the first time. Over the past 19 years, it has raised more than $12 million, money that has helped more than 30,000 patients and their families.
Crane takes great pride in the event’s continued success and the traditions that have remained from the start, from the hanging team t-shirts to the Wall of Hope signed by survivors and their families. She credits much of the event’s success to the loyal group of hospital staff who believed in the event from the start.
“The walk started because of those employees’ commitment to make it happen, and the decision in the beginning to keep all the money local for patients in need,” Crane says. “And those are the two reasons it continues to thrive."