Unusual gift of love from strangers gives hope and strength to four-time cancer patient

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Downriver Rocks

Fighting cancer is emotionally and physically draining, a fact well understood by Plymouth resident Teri Tate, 59. A survivor of three cancers - ovarian, thyroid and endometrial - she is back in treatment for recurrent endometrial cancer.

Twice a month before her appointments at the Charlotte A. Woody Cancer Treatment Center within Beaumont Hospital, Dearborn, Tate selects a beautifully painted rock from a wicker basket at the reception desk. Holding and rubbing one of these rocks reminds her that she going to make it through treatment and get back to a healthy life again.

“They really help me and lift my spirits when I need it the most,” said Tate. “To have a total stranger send you love and hope, it’s so beautiful. Who would think that one rock would fill me with gratitude? But, it does truly affect me like this.”

Supporting cancer patients

Medical oncologists collaborate with patients to create a personalized care plan. Certified oncology nurses at the Cancer Treatment Center administer chemotherapy and other treatments. And, lifelong friends Victoria White of Allen Park and Janice Cusmano of Garden City offer loving support to the center’s patients by donating their painted rocks that feature motivational messages and soothing designs.

About a year ago, the two women joined “Downriver Rocks,” a local Facebook group with almost 36,000 members.

The women’s combined talents eventually found their way to Beaumont, Dearborn. “One day we were at the hospital and came across the Cancer Treatment Center. We decided to rock it out,” Cusmano said.

“We’ve been friends forever,” Cusmano explained. “Victoria is not artsy at all. We started painting rocks because we saw one and thought it was so cool. It’s extremely relaxing to work on them.”

They acquire the rocks everywhere. First, they were finding them in their yards and from places they visited. Now, they buy 50-pound bags of rocks at a time because they are more consistent, clean and flat, which makes them ideal for painting.

Once White decides on a motivational or inspiring message, they use acrylic paint and sealer to paint the rock. “Depending on the detail of the design, it takes us anywhere from three to 45 minutes,” she said.

A huge hit with patients and staff

“They’re an unexpected thing that helps brings joy into our patients’ lives, and we’re committed to becoming a leader in care that supports our patients and their families,” said Shelley Jardine, a business office assistant at the center. 

“It’s fulfilling for us knowing that maybe one of our rocks brightens someone’s day,” said Cusmano.

White and Cusmano find that painting rocks also is a great way to relieve their stress.

“Receiving their painted rocks has the same effect on me, too,” said. Tate. “These rocks have made my life less painful, even if only for a few minutes. That’s why I gave my favorite painted rock to my mom before she had surgery.”

On the back of each rock, a note asks people to share their find on the Downriver Rocks Facebook page, using a photo of the rock and a hashtag of the artist’s name.

“I am not on Facebook,” Tate said. “However, I do email a photograph of each rock to my family and friends to bring joy into their lives, too.”