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Health: NJ Family Aims To Make Chemotherapy Less Frightening

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stephanie-web Stephanie Stahl
Stephanie Stahl, CBS 3 and The CW Philly 57’s Emmy Award-win...
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By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Making chemotherapy fun, or at least less frightening. 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has one New Jersey family’s heartwarming mission.

Debbie Hemmes gets a surprise visit from her grandchildren. You never know what’s going to happen at these chemo parties.

Debbie is getting chemotherapy for stage 3 lung cancer. During each session her daughters throw a different theme party.

“I wanted something to take my mom’s mind off of sitting in a chair with a needle in her arm receiving chemo,” said Kelly McCollister, Debbie’s daughter.

Kelly and her sister Karen have Team Debbie t-shirts for everyone at their mom’s chemo parties. The theme for this one is fun in the sun, which includes a barbecue with beach pails, hot dogs, decorations and games.

“I just feel like I’m blessed, and I guess I did something right raising two beautiful girls that have just kept me going,” said Debbie.

They have a life time of happy memories that were suddenly threatened when 52-year-old Debbie started losing weight in April.

“I was stupid. I smoked. We all think we’re invincible. It’s not going to happen to us, but it does,” said Debbie.

“We’re not going to leave her side. We’re going to help her get through this. We’re going to help her fight this,” said Kelly.

And they’re sharing their festive, fighting spirit with other patients at the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine. Being hooked up for chemotherapy for hours can be scary and lonely that’s why Cecelia Selby looks forward to Debbie’s chemo parties.

“It just enlightens my heart to know that people care. I’m sorry. To know that people support and care cause so many people don’t,” said Cecelia.

“I think it’s awesome. It’s a great thing,” said Lisa Marino, an infusion nurse at Penn Medicine. She says parties and happy distractions are a nice break, and studies have shown positive attitudes can have powerful benefits for cancer patients.

“People that have a good outlook always do seem to do better even with side effects or symptom management,” said Lisa.
And Debbie’s girls are determined to keep these good times rolling for as long as possible.

“They keep my mind off it, and I just love to sit here and watch the two of them,” said Debbie.

Debbie’s cancer is inoperable. She’s getting both chemotherapy and radiation. Her last chemo party, this week will be a formal, black tie affair.

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