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The Cancer Center’s Story Project is an effort to capture stories from our community of patients, friends, family, clinicians, and staff who have been affected by cancer in some way. This is Dennis's Story.
[Dennis presents a photo album of the Mass General Carpentry team working with kids on Yawkey 8.]
“My boss started this a few years back with the kids up on the 8th floor. We thought it would be cool to make birdhouses and pencil boxes with them. My boss is really cool, he went out with his own money and bought a pink cordless screwdriver and he got another one for the boys and now we do it a couple times a year. We build things with them during Pediatric Cancer Awareness month in September and we also do one at Christmas. We do sleighs and gingerbread houses and decorate them. We have a couple of photo albums that they made up for us. They also do pet therapy and we have a 12-foot replica of a great white shark. People from the Atlantic White Shark Conservatory down on the Cape come up twice a year and carry the shark around. The kids ask questions...really cool and amazing questions. It’s amazing how much they know about sharks. So we get to carry that around to all the patient floors and do a workshop with them a couple times per year. That’s really, really cool."
"We had one parent, and the child was from California, and the mother came with him, and he had a dad and four brothers and sisters at home. They were here for about 2 months. One of those days happened to be the workshop and the mom said 'wow, I can’t believe you’re doing this." We usually volunteer our time to do it. It’s just fun. It’s a lot of fun. The kids get so much excitement out of it. The parents get so much excitement out of it. As you can see from the pictures and their faces, we have a blast. It’s really, really cool."
"You feel great about yourself afterwards. I mean, some of these kids are in some real tough shape. They’re inpatient mostly. It’s sad to see sometimes. I’m tearing up now. It’s unbelievable. Even upstairs, we’ve done it bedside with them. You know, there’s one little girl who was getting her treatment and she was feeling under the weather and didn’t want to come up, but after her treatment the doors were closed and all of a sudden we heard *boom* and she flung the door open and she was ready to go. We were wrapping up, but before you know it, there were five of us and we had a whole bunch of different projects. Every one of us grabbed something. She was making all of them work."
"This year they needed someone to be the Easter Bunny. They have the same person every year and the person had another engagement, so my boss asked, 'Dennis...' and I was the Easter Bunny. That was just... the kids were coming up to me and hugging me and high-fiving me and a couple kids who saw my face through the eyes and they were like, 'Woah!' You know, it’s really rewarding, and it’s cool because at the end of the day, if you give them an hour of fun when they thought they were coming here for their treatments, and all that they have to go through, it’s worth it. We love that factor."
"We did something for the Child Life Coordinator up on Yawkey 8. We told her we can do anything. They started talking and now we like to go up and do little favors for them. Years ago I did a fundraiser. I happened to belong to a place that always did a sports’ night and they happen to give the money to whatever organization ran it. One year I ran it because it brings the kids together and it’s a fun night for the kids and we do raffle prizes and stuff. We actually had someone from the Patriots make an appearance. We ended up raising about $8,000. I donated the money here for the enjoyment of hospitalized children. They get a lot of money from people that donate, but how much of it goes to their enjoyment while they’re here in the hospital? From then on I developed a good relationship with all of these people on the 8th floor. This one little boy took a turn for the worst and they grabbed me when I was walking out of the hospital and they said, 'oh you have connections' and they told me that they had a boy upstairs who loved the Red Sox. His condition changed drastically and they wanted to send him to a Red Sox game but Make-A-Wish couldn’t come through until the middle of May. So I had a couple of connections that worked for Budweiser and Coca-Cola so I called them and they said 'okay'. It was opening weekend. This was a couple years back. They came back and said they could get him in the end of April beginning of May. And I said, 'He doesn’t have that much time.'"
"Later on I ran into someone from the planning office here and I said, 'hey, you deal with Walsh Brothers!' Walsh Brothers does all the renovations at Fenway Park. I said 'I know they have a luxury box and here is the problem....' So he said, 'okay, let me call.' He called over and they had already given the tickets away. It was opening weekend at Fenway. Walsh Brothers came back, this kid had 5 brothers and sisters...he was one of 6, and Walsh Brothers told us the people who they had loaned the box out to said, 'Absolutely, we’ll back out'. So they sent the whole family to the game. So this little boy’s mother said, 'You made my kid’s wish' and I said, 'no I didn’t' and she said 'well, if we didn’t ask you then it wouldn’t have happened.' So it was kind of cool, I got to grant a wish! David Ortiz and Wally went up to the box and they signed all kinds of stuff for him. It was pretty neat. He was jumping for joy when I gave him the tickets. The boy wouldn’t stop thanking me, and his mother was crying. It was unbelievable. And in return, Walsh Brothers asked for a photo of the whole family in their box. That was one I was lucky enough to be part of."
"My boss is Bill Belton. He runs the carpenter shop. He’s awesome when it comes to the kids. We have a new Interim Director. Our director retired and he didn’t know that we do this. And my boss was like 'well I didn’t want to go public because we go up there for an hour or two hours and I just wanted to keep it quiet.' And he was like, 'why would you keep that quiet? That’s huge!' Adults are a little different but little kids...they’re little kids! It must be awful. So my boss always just tries to keep quiet about it."
"We do the workshops twice a year and the shark usually comes once to twice a year. I think I inherited the Easter Bunny thing."
"Definitely not me. I don’t know who does Santa Clause. The Bruins come at the end of December. They come with all kinds of toys and everything and we end up walking out with them. They bring presents to all the floors. They’re all top players, too. Last year was Chara and a lot of big name players. They send them all over the place. I think it’s Spry Moving Company that brings all the toys. It’s on the news. They pick a Target and basically buy everything in Target. It’s pretty neat. They send 4 or 5 players to each of the hospitals for the kids. We do a lot of stuff for the little kids."
"I’m a carpenter, we do all kinds of stuff from hanging soap dispensers to building walls, remodeling small areas. We don’t do any huge areas, the union guys usually do the big complete floors. So it can be anything from hanging a picture or a soap dispenser to remodeling an office."
"My boss is huge on helping people get places. If you see someone really lost, just walk them there. Your job can always wait. We walk around this place and see everything. When people come here, they’re usually confused. They’re usually worried. Either for themselves or a family member."
"My dad went through colon cancer. Now seeing it from the patient side, it’s crazy. Since he’s passed away I’ve gotten three handicap accessible buttons installed in this place. I had to push him around everywhere. After a week and a half the ball was rolling and it was already getting put in."
"This place is huge. There’s 25 buildings I think right in this area. So it’s hard. I walk people a lot. People come up to me and say, 'I get to the bridge then where do I go?' and I tell them I’ll just walk them. 'You can just tell me' and I say ok you gotta go down here and around the corner and take a right then a left...and they start looking at me so I just walk them."
"It’s huge. I can honestly say, I’ve been here for 15 years and as of 3 years ago I’m pretty convinced I’ve been in every room here. There’s some hidden rooms and areas you don’t even want to go in. It’s pretty cool. It’s an unbelievable place. The stuff that gets done here from cancer to cardiology to all the way to the research. It’s pretty neat, you know, what the hospital does. We’re lucky enough we get to do the fun stuff."
This interview took place November 14th, 2016.
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