The Times West Virginian

May 1, 2006

‘A Taste of Heaven’

By Jennifer Roush

FAIRMONT — While undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, 8-year-old Christopher Riley hardly wanted to eat anything. So when he would ask his aunt Rhonda Riley, Fairmont General 3B ward secretary, for a special dessert, she made it gladly.

She remembers baking things like a pistachio dessert or fudge.

“What he really liked was my peanut butter fudge,” Riley said. “And when you have a child taking chemotherapy and radiation, you’ll give them anything. And just a little piece of candy just meant the world to him.

“You do anything, you give them anything they want ... because to tolerate food is unbearable.”

Christopher died of brain cancer at age 8, which was years ago, but the memory of the nephew she was so close to remains fresh in her heart.

Riley got to include some of those dessert recipes her nephew loved in the new Fairmont General Hospital Relay for Life cookbook called “A Taste of Heaven.” The FGH inpatient medical surgical unit, 3B, is selling the book to raise money for the American Cancer Society’s Relay, which goes back into the patients’ lives that they see everyday.

Donna Offutt, an LPN in 3B, put the idea in motion by calling a cookbook company and started e-mailing people for recipes. She wanted to gather 200 recipes, but had to stop them at 350. Most of them are dedicated in the memory of someone who died of cancer, in honor of a cancer survivor or from someone who had a personal connection to the disease. The unit hopes to raise $4,000 with the books they just got two weeks ago.

“We always do a Relay,” Offutt said. “We always try to find a way to get some money. We usually do bake sales, but that’s a lot of work. We make about $600-700 each time. So we wanted a way to make some money real fast. ...

“(And) they’re going like crazy. They’re really selling. ”

For Offutt, she’s not just worked with cancer patients, but she’s had some personal family experience with the disease.

“It hit home a couple years ago when my aunt got diagnosed with cancer, and she’s since passed away in January,” she said. “So that’s the reason I got involved because of her mostly. ... She fought a really hard fight.”

Her mother is a skin cancer survivor and her father had prostate cancer. One of the recipes she submitted was one of her late father’s most famous recipes: “Mice Cookies.” It involves dipping cherries in chocolate, placing them flat on a chocolate cookie, pressing a Hershey kiss on front of the cherry and using chocolate to hold Red Hots in place for eyes. Offutt remembers her father used to give those out to the people he’d meet.

“He loved anything surprising like those mice. ... He loved anything funny or anything the was out of the ordinary,” she said.

Martha Sweet, RN, who works on the FGH outpatient oncology unit, said many of the recipes she included in the cookbook she gathered were from the patients. One of Sweet’s favorites is Vonda’s Pickled Eggs. Vonda was a patient at the hospital and later passed away from cancer.

“They (patients) like to cook,” Sweet said. “It’s their life-long hobby, and they’ll share recipes while they’re getting their treatments. It’s something to pass the time and talk about something they enjoy. And some of the them have brought their recipes in to us.”

Working on the 3B and outpatient oncology units, it’s emotional to see people go through cancer.

“You just get attached to them, and you just try to give them the best care that you can for the time that they have,” Offutt said. “If they want to cry, you let them and try to cry with them and talk to them. And you get emotionally involved with the patient and the family.”

Some of them you get really attached to like FGH 3B unit secretary Delores Theresa Ruth Nebraski — who made a big impact on the 3B unit and who passed away from cancer.

“She told me one time, ‘You know I don’t have a problem dying from this cancer. I just don’t want people to forget me.’ I said, ‘Well, we won’t forget you.’ So we put a thing in her name in this book,” Offutt said.

It’s even more personal to the 3B unit on the June 9th Relay for Life because many of the people on the survivors’ walk are their patients.

“When they do the first walk at Relay,” Offutt said. “You just all cry because all the survivors walk the first lap, and you clap and you cry. It’s ... because we know them.”

The cookbooks are $11 each and available at the FGH gift shop or in the front office.

“If anyone sees them, they are going,” she said. “This one girl said they sold in no time at all, just seeing them. It’s just getting the word out to people.”

E-mail Jennifer Roush at jroush@timeswv.com.