The Chemo Buddy story begins with Lillian Shockney, one of the first Breast Cancer Nurse Navigators, and later professor at Johns Hopkins. While busy serving patients, Lillian was diagnosed with breast cancer and went down to North Carolina to share her diagnosis with her mother, while they walked along the beach. During the conversation, she picked two stones off the beach. Handing one to her mother she said, “I will be holding on to this whenever I go in for treatment. Hold on to yours and send me your strength”.
It was this story that inspired DC Area glass artist Gary Rosenthal to create the first “Strength Stones” out of beautiful, fused glass, as a means for people battling breast cancer to share strength and support with their loved ones who could not be present during the trying crucible of chemotherapy. Over the past 10 years, through his art studio, Gary has donated thousands of these Strength Stones to families touched by breast cancer.
In 2019, Gary was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, requiring multiple rounds of chemo, as well as major surgery. It was in the middle of this treatment protocol that hospitals went on lockdown due to the COVID pandemic, barring all visitation during both surgical recovery and chemotherapy, further magnifying the sense of isolation experienced by those beginning cancer treatments. Seeing this first-hand, Gary realized the potential of Strength Stones extended far beyond those battling breast cancer, and resolved to make these tangible symbols of support and solidarity available to anyone battling cancer by founding the Chemo Buddies program.
Through the Chemo Buddies program, cancer patients and their loved ones can procure their own Strength Stones, as well as joining foundations and cancer-care non-profits in donating Strength Stones to newly diagnosed cancer patients. For large groups and community events, the program also offers kits for participants to create their own custom glass mosaics to be fused into personalized Strength Stones.
The Chemo Buddies program has set a target of donating 10,000 Strength Stones this year. We hope you will join us in our goal of helping cancer patients connect more personally and profoundly with their personal support networks.