What would you do if your daughter told you she has cancer?
What could you do?
Dave Quist, an AT&T client solutions executive, was faced with those questions early this year.
“There are so many things a father can do for a daughter. When your daughter tells you, ‘Dad, I have cancer,’ it’s the first time in your life that you can’t just make something happen,” Dave said.
Doctors diagnosed Dave’s daughter, Melissa Angiolillo, with stage 3 breast cancer. That meant surgery, chemotherapy and months of radiation treatments.
Melissa is a successful child advocacy director in a Massachusetts District Attorney’s office. With that diagnosis, she suddenly became a number – a patient. For a woman who likes “to put on lip gloss before [she goes] out in public,” the prospect of regularly putting on an institutional hospital gown – or “johnny” – was something she dreaded.
“I remember going to this one appointment and the ties on the johnny they had left out were knotted together. I couldn’t get it undone. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Not only do I not want to wear this, but I can’t even put it on,’” Melissa said.
Shortly after that appointment, something happened that changed Melissa’s perspective. One of Dave’s coworkers sent her a package. It was a gown with purple ties, covered in pink and purple flowers. It was a gown no one had worn before.
“It felt like it turned me into a person, as opposed to a patient,” Melissa said.
Patients Into People
That’s exactly what her father’s coworker, Christine Tantum, hoped for. Christine’s the one who sent Melissa the gown. She runs a nonprofit called Patients Into People, which supplies hospital gowns to cancer patients. Some are hand-sewn and some are donated, but all are much more personal than those standard gowns.
“Patients don’t need to be dressed as patients. It would just be so much better if they weren’t handed an institutional gown with a dull pattern, which had been worn multiple times,” Christine said.
Christine’s mother, Jean, is her inspiration for the nonprofit. Jean has battled lymphoma 6 times. Christine remembers how much her mother’s outfit could change her outlook during her treatment.
That’s why, 4 years ago, she started sending gowns to cancer patients. It started spreading through word of mouth. As more people found out about her work, demand began to increase. In late 2014, Patients Into People became a legal nonprofit. Christine just launched her website.
“It’s been my dream for the past few years. To see it finally happening is just so gratifying,” she said.
Now, she’s getting letters and emails from people across the U.S., both for donations and gown requests. That’s thanks, in part, to one of her biggest advocates: Dave Quist.
Dave’s simply happy Christine gave him a way to “do something.”
“I felt like I could do something outside of saying, ‘I hope you’re better. I wish you well.’ To know that there was this incredible individualized, personal gown … I couldn’t even put into words,” Dave said.