Nurses, doctors, and other caregivers at Dana-Farber often receive “thank-yous” from grateful patient families, but on one morning in November it was a young man with no connection to cancer exchanging the heartfelt hugs and handshakes.
Lance Corporal Dean Sudol, 23, a U.S. Marine just back from a seven-month deployment in Kuwait, stopped by the Yawkey Center for Cancer Care at Dana-Farber to thank staff for sending care packages to his unit in July. The donated items included snacks, games, deodorant, and more, and surprised not only Sudol, but also his parents – Dana-Farber infusion nurse Jeannine Sudol, RN, and Yawkey Infusion Pharmacy Manager Mark Sudol, RpH.
“It meant so much to us,” says Jeannine Sudol of the gesture. “When you work with people for a long time, you grow to really care about each other – and each other’s families. But we never expected anything like this.”
The idea was conceived by Mary Delaney, RN, a nursing colleague of Jeannine Sudol for two decades. They watched each other’s children grow up through stories, photos, and the occasional visit, so when Delaney heard about Dean’s deployment last spring, she acted right away.
After confirming what could be sent to military personnel overseas, she told fellow nurses in the Yawkey Center infusion clinic where she and Jeannine work that she was starting a gift drive for Dean and his unit. What Delaney didn’t anticipate was how many others on the floor would want to contribute – including doctors, nurse practitioners, technicians, pharmacists, and support staff.
“We filled 17 boxes,” says Delaney. “People wrote wonderful notes, too, and I made sure to put one in each box. One nurse practitioner has two young sons who play lacrosse, like Dean, so they sent a photo of themselves with their sticks and inscribed it, ‘Thanks Dean, from lax bros like you.’”
It was just one more example of how the Sudols’ work and personal lives have become interwoven. Mark joined Dana-Farber in 1987, just after Jeannine, and the couple met, married, and raised Dean and his younger sisters Erica and Rachel while working there. Dana-Farber has become their second family, but the outpouring of generosity still touched them deeply.
“It was overwhelming and amazing,” says Jeannine. “Perhaps they felt they wanted to help us and say thank you to someone serving their country at the same time.” Her husband adds: “It was wonderful show of support from everyone. For so long everyone here allowed Dean to grow up with them, which made them all feel connected to him – and appreciative of what he’s doing.”
In Kuwait, where Dean’s unit was stationed in barren, 113-degree oil fields when not on its frequent patrols, the packages were like gold.
“We all worked in this tiny building, so when the boxes came everybody dived in,” says Dean Sudol, whose unit worked in tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel. “The snacks were probably the most popular, and the letters really meant a lot. I brought them all home with me.”
This is why he took precious time out of his two-week leave before returning to his unit in California to walk the halls of the Yawkey Center with his parents greeting their colleagues, after which the family treated everyone to a pizza lunch and “thank you” cake. One of Dean’s biggest embraces was for Katey Stephans, NP, the nurse practitioner whose sons sent the “lax bros” photo. Stephans teared up as she looked into Dean’s eyes.
“We take care of each other at Dana-Farber,” she said to Dean. “Since you and your unit take care of all of us, we want to take care of you, and let you know how much we care.”
Dean will likely be reminded again sometime in 2017, when he is due to be deployed overseas again.