Priceless pennies lift cancer patients’ spirits
RALLY THE VALLEY
When: 8:30 a.m. Saturday
Where: Sayre Park, 1798 Grand Ave., Glenwood Springs
What: 24.5-mile bike ride, 4-mile walk and kids parade followed by lunch at the park.
One penny is precious to David Olson.
Olson got the coin from the Valley View Hospital valet parking team in Glenwood Springs when he finished his cancer treatment at the Calaway-Young center earlier this summer.
“It’s a little memento that reminds me of the backing and support of everybody there,” said Olson, who keeps the penny at his bedside. “This is unreal. The valets must park a hundred cars a day, and they remember everybody’s name. It makes you feel good.”
Cancer treatment is draining and emotional, so simple smiles, hugs and small gestures can provide big boosts.
The valets at the Calaway-Young entrance started giving out pennies and nickels at the end of patients’ cancer treatments about six months ago. Word is out, and now patients look forward to getting the coins, which wait for them balanced on windowsills and ledges in the valet waiting area.
“People will say, ‘Oh, I only have four treatments left, then I get my penny,’” said Nancy Eide, head of the valet team.
“One gentleman came back for a follow-up treatment and told me, ‘Do you know where that penny is? It’s in a special place with your name on it so I can remember all the nice things you’ve done for me,’” Eide said.
Deb Williams of Glenwood Springs spent hers, though.
“I put it back in circulation,” she said. “It represented getting myself back in circulation.”
Williams had 34 radiation treatments for breast cancer ending July 15. She saw the pennies at the valet station each weekday when she parked and asked why they were there. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that the coins became mementos for patients at the end of typically grueling treatment programs.
“They are just wonderful to provide that,” she said of the valet team.
Williams, who said she’s in better physical condition now than before her treatment, would participate in Saturday’s Rally the Valley fundraiser to provide support programs for cancer patients, but she has to work in the morning. She plans to join the lunch at Sayre Park that follows the bike ride, walk and kids parade.
The penny collection didn’t start as an intentional morale booster. The workers would find coins in the driveway or parking lot and bring them in. They started balancing them on edge as a pastime. Patients started asking about it.
“First it was a joke that the building is level,” Eide said. “Then we realized it was more than that, and to the patients, it could mean that their lives are back in balance.
“It’s a fun, spontaneous way to make them smile.”
Valet Mike Wells, the former longtime Glenwood Springs High School principal — whose wife has cancer and is about to start radiation — said it’s a lift for both the workers and patients.
“It’s sort of overwhelming to see the spirit of the people who come through here,” Wells said. “The determination is amazing.”
Take Olson. He’s the last survivor from his squad in Vietnam, which was exposed to Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used by the U.S. military to deprive the enemy of cover in the hostile jungle. He got cancer in his right lung, then in lymph nodes, and he battled through chemotherapy and radiation this summer. A follow-up visit Thursday showed him to be cancer-free.
“I want you to know that the penny worked for me,” he said in a voice message.
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