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Oncology Nurse Sews Inspiring Quilts at Clara Maass

Inspirational quilts signed by hundreds of cancer survivors greet every patient with cancer walking down the hall at Clara Maass Medical Center’s radiation oncology unit, thanks to Catherine Falzarano, RN, ONC, a radiation oncology nurse at the Belleville, N.J., hospital who sews annual quilts to celebrate the hospital’s Cancer Survivors Day. The quilts later hang on the walls of the department.

“It’s a great thing for people to see that other people survived this and for how many years,” Falzarano said.

Falzarano’s mother taught her to sew, and she always enjoyed the hobby. During her 32-year career at Clara Maass, she often brought quilts to work to show co-workers and patients.

To celebrate the facility’s first survivors day, 13 years ago, Sandra Mazzeo, MPA, RT-T, director of radiation oncology services at the hospital, who has worked with Falzarano during her entire tenure at Clara Maas, asked the nurse to make one of her quilts.

A radiation oncology nurse at Clara Maass Medical Center sews quilts every year to celebrate Cancer Survivors Day.

“She’s very talented,” Mazzeo said. “Working with Cathy has been a dream. She is so patient orientated from the time I met her in 1979 until today. As an oncology nurse, she is always on task. It’s been a wonderful journey with her.”

For the 1998 survivors day and for every one since, Falzarano has designed a quilt, about the size of a lap blanket, which survivors can write on with an indelible ink pen. Images have included the survivor’s day logo, butterflies and a patriotic theme.

“Each one shows how much love there is,” Mazzeo said. “They are extremely moving. Each one is unique and beautiful.”

More than 100 people sign a quilt each year, often giving thanks or offering their thoughts about the cancer experience, during the survivors day festivities, which include music, food, clowns and other entertainment.

“[The event] is a real high,” Falzarano said. “It’s so nice to see people who went through a lot of treatment and a hard time to get on with their lives, being happy and thankful.”

After being signed by those undergoing cancer treatment and cancer survivors, the quilts are hung on the walls of the oncology department.

Patients finishing their radiation treatment also often sign the quilt. Falzarano then goes back and sews around the message and signature. Each quilt takes Falzarano about 100 hours to complete. Many former patients return year after year, to celebrate their survival and add something to the new quilt. It has become a tradition. Some prepare their messages ahead of time.

“As I’m quilting around the signatures of people I know, I remember them and what they went through,” Falzarano said. “It’s motivational for me, too.”

Clara Maass officials hang the quilts in the department. They trigger staff members’ thoughts about their former patients — those still alive and those who lost their battles with cancer. “They are here forever in our memory,” Mazzeo said.

Current patients often find hope in reading messages from patients who completed their treatment and are doing fine.

“It makes them feel there is a future,” Falzarano said. “Sometimes when you are surprised by a cancer diagnosis you think that you don’t have a future.”

By | 2020-04-15T13:11:44-04:00 May 30th, 2011|Categories: New York/New Jersey Metro, Regional|0 Comments

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