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Gloria Gemma Foundation RV bringing ‘Hope’ to cancer survivors:

Julian Gothard

Nov 9th 2012


It’s hard to overstate the vital role that the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation’s “Hope Bus” plays in bringing a “little bit of heaven” to cancer patients and family members coping with the emotional and medical repercussions of a cancer diagnosis. Over the past couple of years the brightly painted, neon pink, recreational vehicle - emblazoned with the words Hope,FaithCourageStrength and Determination - has become a familiar sight to Rhode Islanders and Bay Staters as it traverses neighborhoods within the Ocean State as part of the Foundation’s mission to raise breast health awareness and enhance the quality of life for breast cancer patients on America’s eastern seaboard.

Donated to the Gloria Gemma Foundation by the Halkyard Family Foundation, the 37-foot-long, 2009 model year, Forest River “Georgetown” motorhome has become an integral part of the charity’s wellness and resource community outreach program as well as a mobile memorial to the lives of Gloria J. Gemma, a beloved wife and mother-of-nine who succumbed to breast cancer in 2002, and Joan Rawlins Halkyard who died of the same disease in 1997. The latter highlights the fact that breast cancer remains the most common form of cancer amongst American women of all races, whilst cancer - in all its guises - is second only to heart disease as a leading cause of death in the United States.

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The Gloria Gemma Foundation, 249 Roosevelt Ave, Pawtucket, RI 02860
41.879219055176 ; -71.382476806641

The Hope Bus – a gas-powered Class A motorhome sourced through East Greenwich, Rhode Island-basedArlington RV and valued at around $99K - features a full kitchen (that the Foundation uses to teach nutrition classes), a living room with a sofa, fireplace and flat screen TV; a bathroom with shower (that’s currently non-operational) and a rear bedroom – minus the queen bed – that now functions as a multi-use healing room. Originally offered ex works as a triple slide unit the 378TS Georgetown retains both living room slides but dispensed with the rear slide when the bed in the master bedroom was removed. Apart from this modification all other systems – levelling jacks, water filtration system, generator, etc. - remain as per the unit’s original specification.

The unit’s impressive exterior paintjob – selected in preference over wraps for reasons of durability - was created by Providence, Rhode Island-based graphic designer Eva Anderson and hand painted over a two-week period by artist Shawn Kilheeney. Emblazoned with a number of affirmations that are well known to cancer survivors the bus also features the names of the two women – Gloria Gemma and Joan Halkyard - who provided the inspiration for both Foundations. You can find their names inscribed beneath the left and right side cockpit windows.

According to Foundation team member, Maureen DiPiero, the Hope Bus offers a variety of thrivership programs and services including healing arts programs, Zentangle – a meditative art form – jewelry making classes, journal creation, basket decoration and watercolor painting whilst their most recent project involves creating clay starfish as part of a statewide art initiative. “What we find is, in the process of people doing that,” said Maureen, “particularly in some cases where people are reticent to share their experience or their journey with you, they will start talking to us, about how they got diagnosed and what the experience has been like.” This spiritual healing via catharsis is evidenced by a young woman, a freshman at one of the local universities, who paid a recent visit to the bus. “She started to do Zentangle…and we were just talking…She told us…that her mom was out of state. On her first day of classes her mother was having her first chemo treatment and that was the day that we were there,” said Maureen. “She said it was very difficult for her not to be able to be with her mom but being on the bus and being able to talk about it…helped relieve some of her concern and emotional pain because she had a place that she could go to and talk about it.”

“That happens a lot,” said Maureen who sees the relaxed atmosphere provided by the bus as a key component of the family foundation’s support process. “It’s a very different environment,” said Maureen, “and we work really hard to keep it that way… We want people to feel comfortable enough to open up and talk to us,” she added.

Coping with cancer can be an emotional roller coaster for patients and families alike, especially during chemo, so the bus also provides a variety of spa services aimed at healing the mind, body and spirit - like reflexology, manicures and massages. “We do yoga... If we go someplace and it’s a sunny day and the temperature is decent…we set up a yoga class outside the bus,” said Maureen. Many of the services offered on the bus are tailored specifically to particular socio-economic classes or ethnic groups with a particular emphasis on ensuring that uninsured or underinsured women get access to crucial mammography and Pap tests and other diagnostic and treatment services.

One of the Foundation’s dreams is to throw a load of sleeping bags on the bus and take a group of low income breast cancer patients on a camping trip to Cape Cod. However, Maureen plans on bringing along a team of manicurists, cosmetologists, makeup artists and massage therapists to give those cancer patients a complete glamping makeover. “We would love to be able to do that,” she said wistfully.

The Foundation’s ongoing RV operations are supported in part by grants from the Rhode Island Foundation, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Amgen Foundation and Taco/The White Family Foundation as well as from local business donations of food and services but - as RVers know all too well – motorhome overheads can be very steep, especially when mohos are operated on a daily basis. If you can help out with a donation of time, money or goods in kind then please contact the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation at the address below.

Additional Information: The Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation, 249 Roosevelt Ave, Suite 201, Pawtucket, RI 02860 • Tel: 401-861-HERO (4376) | 800-549-HERO (4376)