Janice Smeall and Doris Gillmore’s lives first intertwined 17 years ago when their surgeon suggested that they meet one another. Both women had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Both had similar personalities.
“He told me I was very much like one of his other patients,” remembered Doris. “Apparently we were both asking the same type of questions.”
A few weeks later, the women connected on the telephone and learned that having the same surgeon was just one of many things they shared in common.
“It turned out that Janice’s sister lived across the street from me,” said Doris. “We just couldn’t believe it. We’ve been friends ever since.”
Armed with their new friendship, Doris and Janice decided to attend a breast cancer support group together at Shawnee Mission Medical Center. They learned about Camp Bluebird, a special camp for cancer survivors sponsored by the Foundation for Shawnee Mission Medical Center.
“When we first heard about the camp, we really wanted nothing to do with it,” recalled Janice. “Who wants to go and hang out with a bunch of sick people? It sounded pretty depressing.”
Doris also remembers their hesitancy to go.
“We drove up separately from everyone else and kept our suitcases in the car. We didn’t plan on staying!”
What they found at camp defied their expectations. For three days, women from all walks of life shared meals, games, relaxation and huge doses of laugher. Doris and Janice quickly realized they had found something special.
“The camp allows us to get away and really focus on what’s important in life – friendships and fun,” said Janice. “Doris and I sort of get a little crazy at camp. We’re definitely the rowdy ones, but everyone has lots of fun.”
“We’ve been going to Camp Bluebird for 16 years now,” said Doris with a smile. “Everyone just calls us Janice-Doris because we’re always together. “They’re not sure which one is which, but that’s OK - we answer as one.”
While a baby’s birth is a happy time, new mothers often experience a great deal of physical and emotional stress. Such was the case in 1999 when Toni Whitworth gave birth to her daughter, Reagan.
“I was the first among my friends to have a baby,” she said. “I didn’t know other women who were living this same experience.”
Among Toni’s main concerns was providing enough nourishment for her newborn. She knew that breastfeeding was best for her daughter, yet Toni and Reagan were having a hard time settling into a routine.
Exhausted and overwhelmed, Toni put Reagan in her baby carrier and headed to Shawnee Mission Medical Center’s Breastfeeding Support Group.
“I just sat down and started crying,” she said.
Toni quickly learned that she was not alone. She began attending the support group every Tuesday to share her experiences with other new mothers who were also breastfeeding their babies. A lactation specialist provided the moms with resources, support and encouragement.
Eight of the mothers enjoyed the group so much that they decided to start meeting on Fridays as well. Now, ten years later, these “Friday Friends” still get together for fun, support and friendship.
“Our children have grown up together,” says Toni. “We vacation together and take care of each other. We’re like family.”
Despite living in five different states, the mothers stay connected and their children remain best friends. Toni loves knowing that the bonds formed at the Medical Center will span generations.
Each year, more women choose to have their babies at Shawnee Mission Medical Center than any other hospital in the region.
This was certainly the case for Gretchen Masters and her husband, Casey, as they prepared for the arrival of their fifth child earlier this year. With the exception of one, all of the Master’s children have been born at the Medical Center.
“The nurses at Shawnee Mission Medical Center are amazing,” says Gretchen.
Gretchen knows a thing or two about labor and delivery nurses. Her aunt, Sue Whitworth, was one of the first nurses who started the hospital’s maternity program in 1962.
“After the birth of our first daughter, Lucy, I thought that perhaps I was getting special treatment because of my aunt,” recalls Gretchen. “But then with my other children I realized that this is the way they treat all of their mothers. They anticipate your every need.”
For Gretchen, her needs included picking her own vegetarian meals and receiving Holy Communion in observance of her faith.
And when the Master’s third baby, Max, spent five days in the Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the nurses made sure that Gretchen’s emotional needs were met as well.
“One of the nurses went out and bought a picture frame and put Max’s picture in it,” she says. “They put the frame by my bedside because they knew how important it was for me to see his face. I will never forget their kindness.”
When their newest baby, Rocco, was born, the nurses once again took special care of Gretchen.
“With five children under the age of 11, they knew I was going home to a busy household,” laughs Gretchen. “They insisted that I get some sleep!”
The Foundation for Shawnee Mission Medical Center
7315 Frontage Road, Suite 221
Shawnee Mission, KS 66204