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Lights of Love

Lights of Love campaign celebrates another year



Story by Jennifer Parks - The Albany Herald

ALBANY — During a warm December night on Tuesday, a holiday tradition was continued at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital to honor the cancer patients and survivors of Southwest Georgia.

Heather Yeiser, an Albany elementary school teacher, flipped the light switch on a 40-foot tree during the 2015 Lights of Love ceremony outside the Phoebe Cancer Center. The Lights of Love event, ongoing since 1983, is meant to celebrate the accomplishments of a fundraising campaign benefiting the region’s cancer patients.

Yeiser, an elementary school teacher at Deerfield-Windsor School, was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2013 at age 38 following her first mammogram. A wife and mother of two, she celebrated her last cancer treatment in December 2014.

A 20-year attendee of Lights of Love, she never expected to have the opportunity to be the tree lighter — a position which is often given to a cancer survivor.

As an elementary school teacher, she is most comfortable talking to children. On Tuesday evening, she found herself in the company of many adults. While struggling to maintain her composure, she shared the story of her cancer experience and the community that helped her through it — including her co-workers, family, church and medical team, some of whom pitched in with the child rearing duties when she was unable to.

“The outpouring of love was phenomenal … I was more worried about (the children) than I was for myself. There was no need to worry,” she said.

Yeiser continued working while undergoing treatment, during which time she transitioned from a wig to a ball cap with a scarf before walking into Deerfield with a bald head — receiving what she described as “unconditional” love from her students.

She also spoke of how lucky she felt to be able to get the care she needed while going home to sleep in her own bed at night, and to have the provider team she did.

“(Dr) Chirag Jani and (Dr.) Craig Murray are heroes in my book,” Yeiser said.

Bracelets were also made in her honor, which people still wear. Last year, the Love Run was dedicated to contributing to her medical costs. All of those people put faith in Yeiser’s mind about the concept “It takes a village …”

“My village has filled my cup over and over,” Yeiser said.

Lights of Love is co-hosted by the Junior Woman’s Club of Albany and Phoebe Foundation. Each light on the tree is meant to represent a donation for cancer patients and their families. Officials say projects that have benefited from the campaign include vans to transport patients to treatment, a cancer support library and a meditation room for the cancer center.

More than $73,000 was reportedly raised last year and went toward the purchase of a 3-D mammography for the Carlton Breast Health Center.

Phoebe officials said all of this year’s donations will go toward amenities to provide comfort for patients and families on the seventh floor inpatient oncology unit, as well as to help cancer patients undergoing treatment who are in financial distress with everyday needs through the foundation’s cancer crisis fund.

Michele Bates, the chair for Lights of Love, said Tuesday the campaign was on track to meet this year’s goal of $50,000.

“This is more than a holiday event. It is a year-long campaign,” she said.

Phoebe officials said approximately 9,000 patients receive care in the 35-bed oncology unit each year for high-dose chemotherapy, disease progression and oncology-related emergencies.

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