On a Monday 18 years ago, a brochure changed the course of CHN’s history. It also changed Diane Bongiorno’s approach to living and “paying it forward.”
“I was about a year past treatment from my first cancer diagnosis and my friend put a CHN brochure in my lap during one of our every-Monday lunches,” Diane recalled. “To this day, I don’t know what her intention was, to get help for me or to have me help others. But my first thought was, ‘I want to help!’”
And help she has! Professionally, she’s spoken with countless people impacted by cancer as a member of the Patient Services team. In her role as Support Volunteer, she’s had match conversations with 226 patients and caregivers, providing a listening ear, steadfast encouragement, and most of all – she did her best to provide hope.
“From the beginning, Diane has helped people navigate through their diagnoses – gently, with kindness, knowledge, empathy and care,” Executive Director Wanda Diak said. “Despite a recurrence of her cancer as well as another primary diagnosis, Diane never showed the angst she was experiencing as she dealt with her own health challenges.”
“Working at (and with) Cancer Hope Network satisfied my need to share my experience with others and gave me an opportunity to help people cope with their cancer diagnosis. This fit was what I needed,” Diane agreed. “From the moment I started, this was my “home away from home.”I loved the atmosphere in the office, the team approach, the camaraderie and the openness of sharing ideas. Working for CHN also became my support group. It’s an extremely supportive environment. We practice what we preach – reaching out to people and helping others.”
It wasn’t just Diane being able to help others and being helped herself. Tom, always incredibly supportive of Diane, soon found his own perspective changed. “I’m a business person. My interests have always been very narrow (business, and the Yankees),” Tom laughed. “Diane would come home and tell me about her day in Patient Services. My head felt like it was exploding trying to comprehend how difficult her job was, speaking with people from all over the country, going through probably the worst time in their life, and Diane was there to listen and help them move forward – always giving hope. I give her so much credit for being able to do that, call after call, day after day. I could not do it.” His pride evident, he turned to her. “You helped a lot of people who were feeling defeated or going through almost impossible times.”
“I can’t do anything close to what Diane does, but I needed to help in my own way,” he continued. Tom’s “own way” soon meant marshalling friends, clients and colleagues to support Cancer Hope Network fundraisers. It meant bringing his talents to bear for the organization. “I help people give,” he said thoughtfully. “Most people want to help, but they don’t always know how to help. My goal is to find a way to make it easy for them to help Cancer Hope Network.”
For eighteen years, Tom and Diane have been finding ways to do what needs to be done. “We watched their family grow with the marriages of Christen and Stephen – and then the birth of their three (almost 4) beloved grandchildren,” Diak reminisced. “They brought their immediate and extended family to events as guests and attendees. They’ve recruited associates and friends as volunteers. They’re not just part of the CHN family. It’s safe to say CHN has become part of their family.”
“Tom and I have a personal relationship with Hope. We became acquaintances when I was first diagnosed,” Diane said, “and that friendship has grown deeper and deeper through my work at CHN, and my own cancer challenges. And now, I’d say Hope and I are best friends.”
Diane and Tom agree that having the opportunity to introduce Hope through their involvement with Cancer Hope Network, has been a blessing. “It’s become a passion,” Diane finished. “Never underestimate the power of Hope.”
For more information about the Chrysalis Gala, to reserve your place or make a donation in Diane and Tom’s honor, please visit cancerhopenetwork.org/gala or contact Randibeth Gallant – 908.879.4039 ex 10 | firstname.lastname@example.org.