Patsy Martin, the treelighter for the 2013 Lights of Love ceremony, gives remarks at the campaign's treelighting ceremony on Monday. In all, Lights of Love has raised more than $1 million for cancer patients in Southwest Georgia. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)
ALBANY — In keeping with a holiday tradition to acknowledge cancer patients from the past and present, candles were lighted outside of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital to culminate a year-long campaign to honor and benefit those individuals.
The hospital hosted the Lights of Love ceremony, an event that has been ongoing every Christmas season since 1983, just outside the entrance to the Phoebe Cancer Center on Monday evening — featuring a tree lighter who has earned herself the reputation of a trooper in her own right.
The event was due to be the first “Lights of Love” ceremony in four years to be held outside. Originally intended to take place in front of Phoebe’s main entrance, it was moved underneath the canopy outside Medical Tower II — home to the hospital’s cancer center — due to inclement weather. Following an opening from Larry Hockman, chairman of the Phoebe Foundation board, and an invocation from Don Adams of First United Methodist Church, Phoebe Putney Health System CEO Joel Wernick made a point of noting what progress has been made as a result of fundraisers such as the “Lights of Love” campaign.
“The growth that has happened here has benefited (patients and doctors),” he said. “Thanks for a tradition that has been ongoing for 30 years.”
Casey Moore, representing Junior Woman’s Club of Albany, announced that this year’s campaign raised $54,000. The funds will be used to renovate the waiting area of the radiation and oncology clinic at the Phoebe Cancer Center.
Leroy Bynum, dean of fine arts at Albany State University, sang his rendition of “O, Holy Night.” After that, Dr. Chirag Jani, medical director of hematology oncology at Phoebe, came up to introduce a patient of his who was serving as this year’s tree lighter.
“We are extremely grateful when we see this event as a symbol of hope,” the doctor said. “(Albany real estate professional and retired banker) Patsy Martin saw us about a year ago with a diagnosis of breast cancer. She came to us with a lot of questions, a lot of uncertainties, but the one thing she had in her eyes was hope.”
Several mammograms performed over the course of a few months and an ultrasound ultimately revealed cancer in Martin’s right breast in July 2012. Since then, she has undergone treatment and returned to her career as a real estate agent.
Martin opened up by expressing her gratitude toward the Carlton Breast Health Center at Phoebe.
“I’m grateful for the breast cancer facilities here,” she said. “I met with wonderful doctors. Dr. Jani had his day off when he was called in to meet with me. Not only did he come in on his day off, but he was wonderful. I was blown away that we have such a state-of-the art breast cancer facility. We are very, very lucky to receive this kind of treatment in our community.
“All of you here have been touched by cancer. I want to thank you for your support.”
Martin also took note that the campaign culminates during the season of giving, or during a time in which “we are almost as we should be.”
“What a glorious world it would be if we could have Christmas every day,” she said. “Some gift suggestions: For your enemies, forgiveness. For your friends, tolerance. For (your loved ones), your heart. To your customers, your best service, and to yourself, the awesome respect you deserve.”
To close out the program, the candles each member of the audience was holding were lighted as Bynum gave a performance of “God Bless Us Everyone.”
Every year, the “Lights of Love” tree displayed at the hospital represents donations made to Phoebe’s cancer services, with proceeds from the project going to provide special services for patients and families dealing with the effects of cancer. For a monetary contribution, a symbolic light in honor or memory of a special someone is placed on the tree and the donor receives an invitation to attend the tree lighting ceremony in December.
At the event, there is traditionally a cancer survivor serving as a tree lighter to flip the switch at the ceremonial lighting of the “Lights of Love” tree.
In all, more than $1 million has gone toward the cause.