John T. Forcellese

Memorial Fund

  John's Team

Congratulations to our 2021 scholarship recipients:

Somerville High School

 Amelia Keenan                                                           Nolan Dukeshire

Falmouth High School

             Caroline Dolan           Kathleen Dolan                         Vincent Duffany

             Gunnar Jensen                Maria Krag                            Kaleigh Roulston


  Scott Swick                                                                     Audette Lewis


Watch the YouTube video made by the patients and staff at

Boston Children's Hospital Bone Marrow Transplant Unit - 6 West.

Holiday Heroes: Hospital staff gives sick kids a dose of cheer

By Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY December 1, 2010

First in a series featuring people who serve others during the holidays and all year long.



Last Christmas, Lisa Scherber and her staff created a winter wonderland with Santa's Workshop, Candy Cane Lane and tissue-paper snowflakes galore in the pediatric cancer clinic at Dana-Farber/Children's Hospital Cancer Center in Boston.  "The kids would come in, and their eyes would get wide," says Scherber, 44, director of patient and family programs.  Santa visited every day for two weeks.  He would go to the bedsides of children who were receiving their treatments, sit with them and hand out stockings and toys.  He even visited patients who had had stem cell transplants and were still in isolation rooms.  "It was magical," she says.


"If the kids can forget about their cancer for one moment, then we've done our jobs.  We are giving them a different kind of medicine one that will give them happy times, one that will bring smiles."


Scherber and the staff at the hospital have been selected as the first to be featured in USA TODAY's Holiday Heroes series weekly stories about people who go to great lengths to serve others during the holidays and all year long.  Their stories will appear in the paper and at each Thursday until Christmas.


Scherber has spent the past 18 years working to brighten the lives of children with cancer and their families.  After graduating with a degree in communications, she worked at a TV station for five years and volunteered two days a week at Dana-Farber.  "I loved it.  I felt like I made a difference.  I left there every day smiling, feeling like it was the most amazing place to be."  So she quit her job and went back to school to get a master's degree in counseling and psychology and then joined the staff at the cancer center.


Scherber, who is married with two children, became known as the "play lady" because she played with the patients and their siblings and organized their activities in the waiting area, which is set up as a playroom.  Then one day in 1992, a family mentioned to her that they wanted to get to know other families who had "made it through" the cancer treatments with their children.  So she decided to host an annual summer festival, a day-long event with face-painting, rock climbing, magicians, swimming pools, petting zoo, kiddie rides and a cookout.  Last summer, 2,000 people attended, including current and former patients and their families.


"The beauty of this is a child could be in line waiting for the moon bounce with someone who had the same treatment five years ago, and they've made it through and are doing amazing things," Scherber says.  "It gives the current patients hope.  It makes families stronger to know they aren't fighting this alone."


Baseball, makeovers for teens
Besides the summer festival, she and her staff take teenagers to visit the Boston Red Sox during spring training.  And she hosts a makeover weekend for teenage girls, complete with redoing their makeup, getting manicures and shopping for new outfits. 
The events are especially important to teenagers who need someone they can relate to, she says. "As much training as we all have, the one person that a 15-year-old wants to talk to is another 15-year-old."


This year Scherber and her colleagues will create the winter wonderland again at the clinic, in addition to hosting the annual winter festival Saturday at a nearby hotel.  The guest list includes hundreds of current and former pediatric cancer patients and their families.  Santa will be there, along with his elves, who are new pediatric oncologists in their first year at the hospital.  "These doctors have gone to top medical schools, but they have really made it when they put on green tights and stand by Santa's side," Scherber says.  The kids get a kick out of seeing their physicians dressed as elves, she says.  "It's a huge deal when the families see their doctors on stage.  It changes their relationship from then on.  How could it not when you see your doctor in green tights?"  At the party, kids receive stockings and presents that have been donated.  A photographer takes family portraits.


The festival connects parents, patients and siblings.  Everybody finds someone they can relate to, she says.  "When you are 5 years old and have cancer, you go to school and no one looks like you.  Treatment often takes a toll on kids' bodies and their appearance, but when they come to the festivals, they see others who look like them."


The festivals are something the children and families look forward to.  These kids deserve something to get them through the next treatment, she says.  "They deserve hope.  They deserve to see how strong they are.  That's what these events do: They give them the strength and hope and the ability to make friends."


The holiday event is helpful to the health professionals, too, Scherber says.  "It's amazing for the doctors and staff because we get to see people who we treated years ago.  We may have treated them when they were 5 and now they are 15.  It gives us a breath of air.  It gives us hope as well."


The winter festival is one of the highlights of the year, she says.  "It's everything wrapped up in a giant present for us.  It touches us all really deeply, and right in the heart."


Like a second family
Families who have attended the activities say they treasure the experiences. 
The hospital staff and other families with children who are receiving treatment become "like your second family it's like going to a Christmas party with your family," says Liz Hoenshell of Littleton, Mass., whose daughter Kristen, 3, is in remission from rhabdomyosarcoma, a malignant soft-tissue tumor.  "It's really hard to imagine the hell people go through with a cancer in your child," Hoenshell says. "You connect with the other families in ways you can't really explain."  The time with them away from the hospital is a gift.  "You need to celebrate and share a dinner.  There are no IV towers, no tubes, no pricking and prodding the kids," she says.  The doctors and nurses "are your go-to people when you are in treatment, and when you're not, it's really special to spend time with them," she says.


Pediatric oncologist Christy Duncan, who treats bone marrow transplant patients at the hospital, has served as Santa's helper at the festival.  She says the young cancer patients often miss their school holiday events, so the hospital activities help fill that void.  "This does a lot for patients as far as their mood and spirits.  It does a lot for the families.  It's hard for the parents to see how much their child has to give up."


The mettle to raise funds
Scherber scrambled for years to find donations to fund the winter festival and other activities.  Then she decided to take matters into her own hands. 
She organized a team of doctors, nurses and others who ride in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, a 191-mile bike-a-thon.  She dubbed her group Team ROAR Reindeers on a Ride.

In August, the 34-member team raised $191,000.  "It's not a doctor doing research, it's a doctor pedaling," Scherber says.  "The nurses don't have to administer chemo or medicine, but they have to get the funds from their family and friends."


The hospital staff members come to know and love the children they serve, she says.  "It doesn't get easier watching kids struggle through this.


"The kids are the heroes. We are just along for the ride."


(re-printed with permission)