You might imagine that, on their personal time, employees of a cancer treatment center would immerse themselves in all that is unrelated to this difficult line of work. That’s not the case for Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s Stephanie Jones, an administrative secretary in the David and Donna Long Center for Cancer Treatment.
Her work at the cancer center since 2004 has hardwired into her a deep-seated level of compassion for the patients who come through the center’s doors — a hallmark of The Sharp Experience.
In 2014, the center launched a support group called “Lunch and Learn,” where patients gather for monthly lunchtime sessions featuring a guest speaker on pertinent topics. Past topics include: “Genetics and You,” “Chemo Brain” and “Let’s Talk About Sex.”
For the support group, launched by social worker Linda Hutkin-Slade, the plan was to simply provide some store-bought finger foods or other snacks. Jones, who is passionate about creating home-cooked meals, offered to bring a homemade side dish, and eventually took over the lunch menu planning.
“I wanted to create an environment where they could feel at home and have a good, sit-down meal together,” she says. Jones plans her menus carefully, keeping in mind that the patients’ health is key when selecting the ingredients. Then, each evening before the “Lunch and Learn,” she spends her free time in her own kitchen, preparing the lunchtime spread.
The result is a room full of patients at various stages of the disease, gathered around a table, enjoying home-cooked fare and chatting about the weather, their families and their cancer.
A breast cancer survivor of 20-plus years, although the cancer has resurfaced elsewhere, Julia McGuiness marveled at the homemade meal. She says she admires Sharp Grossmont for the support group and the personal touch. “It’s the way they are approaching it, putting more of an emphasis on holistic healing and I just love it. I find it healing to the heart, body and soul.”
Stephanie’s goal is exactly that. “We learn that some of these people are going through treatment and so many things in their lives, and for some it’s their only social time. Some are on fixed incomes and have a hard time paying for gas and just getting here, but they come. I want them to feel nourished not just with food, but also with love and attention.”