There are all types of races out there. Some races you can train for and some you can’t, but anyone who has ever competed in one will tell you they are hard work — they require patience and grit. Sometimes though, when you least expect it, you can draw inspiration from someone in a race all their own. And when your race is cancer, that can make all the difference. Just ask Lisa Bianchi.
Bianchi, 58, was diagnosed with breast cancer last fall. At the time, she wasn’t sure how to take the first step forward. The road ahead seemed impassable. What she didn’t know though, was that at that same time, her friend Kristen Pagliocco was about to bring her — and others battling cancer — a source of encouragement.
Pagliocco had previously read about “We Finish Together,” an organization dedicated to connecting runners who wish to donate medals with those who might appreciate receiving them. The medals are personalized with handwritten messages of inspiration and support to help recipients with whatever challenges they may be facing.
After getting involved with the organization, Pagliocco was asked to be the Boston-area ambassador, responsible for distributing medals to those in need in the area. Within days of assuming the role, she learned of Bianchi’s diagnosis.
“When I found out [about Lisa] I said to myself, ‘this is supposed to happen right now’,” Pagliocco said of being named the Boston ambassador. She also gave one of her own medals to Bianchi. “I knew she had to stay positive, and at the same time I knew this would distract her.”
She was right.
Bianchi brought the medal with her to every appointment at the Sophia Gordon Cancer Center at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, where she was receiving treatment. Bianchi was so inspired by the reassurance the medal provided, she decided to bring “We Finish Together” to the hospital. Working with Nidhi Parikh, Chief Radiation Therapist and Department Manager, Radiation Oncology, Bianchi and Pagliocco brought a basket of medals to the Radiation Oncology waiting room, making Lahey the first hospital in Massachusetts to be part of the “We Finish Together” program.
“These medals have made the patients so happy,” said Parikh. “To read the notes and hold the medals – realizing how meaningful they are to the people who won them, and then donated them to support others is so powerful.”
Bianchi hand-delivered medals and messages to some patients she saw on a regular basis during treatment.
“Some people’s reactions were to not take the medals until they finished treatments,” said Bianchi. “I told them, ‘No, take it when you start your journey. You’ve earned it just by being here.”
One particular medal recipient holds a special place in Bianchi’s heart: Fulvio Gaglione, a radiation therapist on her care team and a two-time cancer survivor. The note on his medal — donated from a runner of the Boston’s Run to Remember — read, you believed in your strength and won the race twice. Thankful and blessed you continue to help others win theirs.
Gaglione may have received a medal, but Bianchi credits every member of her care team for providing her with the constant comfort, compassion and hope she needed to make it through treatment.
“I can’t even believe the wonderful people who surrounded me,” she said.
Bianchi finished radiation last month and is feeling good. She and Pagliocco plan to continue providing medals to the Cancer Center, and eventually expand the initiatives to other hospitals.
“I have to tell you,” said Pagliocco, “this has made her experience with having cancer completely different than without it. I’ve never seen her so positive and excited.”
“What helped me out through this all was being able to help others out,” said Bianchi. “[The medals] give them hope and reassurance that they’re not alone.”
For more information on cancer care services, check out the Lahey Health Cancer Institute.