Comfort during care

Members of UWL’s Radiation Therapy Club work on one of the blankets to deliver to Gundersen Health System during a club meeting at the end of November. From left are, Morgan Watson, club historian; Lexie Radle, vice president; Erin Richardson, president; Stephanie Hoff, treasurer; and Courtney Kocken, vice president. More than five years ago club member took on the service project to bring more of a career connection to their community service.

Alumna’s service project continues to spread warmth

When UWL Alumna Marcie (Wiederholt) Robbins, ’12, was a child, she thought one day she would cure cancer. As she grew older, she realized the monumental size of her goal. Yet she could still spend her life caring for those with cancer.

Marcie Robbins

She does that today as a radiation therapist at Gundersen Health System. And a tradition she spearheaded as a UWL students continues to bring comfort to cancer patients in the community today.

Every fall semester a group of about 50 students in UW-La Crosse’s Radiation Therapy Club make handmade, tied blankets to deliver to the Oncology Department at Gundersen Health System. They made 15 blankets during their last meeting of the semester on Tuesday, Nov. 28 and delivered them in early December.

In addition to the annual blanket-making tradition, students in the club can be found driving cancer patients to appointments or talking to Mayo Clinic patients over a hand of cards at the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge in Rochester, Minnesota. Still others can be found penning a simple note of encouragement to those undergoing treatment.

A radiation therapist is much more than someone who administers radiation, says Erin Richardson, a UWL radiation therapy major and club president. The second half of the title is “therapist” for a reason, she adds. It is a personable, caring and service-oriented career that students prepare for, in part, through community service.

The blanket making project started when Robbins was president of the student club. Back then, the club members volunteered in the community — playing bingo with nursing home residents and “trick or treating for cans” to collect food panty donations. But that didn’t get them in contact with the people they would be serving in their future. So, Robbins created the blanket making project to directly benefit cancer patients.

The project was a win-win, she says. Students bonded with each other and patients while making and delivering the blankets. The patients were and continue to be appreciative, Robbins adds. “Some are so thankful they cry,” she notes. “They are happy to know someone is thinking of them and making them feel special.”

From left, Radiation Therapy Club members Rithvik Hari and Sawyer Ellsworth work on handmade, tied blankets during a club meeting. Gundersen Health System patients who receive the blankets appreciate the warming gift.

Robbins is happy to see the tradition continue at UWL. It’s not too surprising is has considering the statistics. A recent self-reporting survey found that 42 percent of UWL seniors volunteered up to five hours weekly.

Richardson, and Radiation Therapy club vice presidents, Courtney Kocken and Lexie Radle, have been involved in the blanket making and delivery for four years. “You know you are putting your hard work into improving someone else’s life,” says Richardson.

The project, in that respect, is a lot like the profession.

All three declared the radiation therapy major as freshmen because they grew up seeing people close to them go through cancer treatment. Whether an aunt, grandma or a high school friend, they remember the doctors, nurses and therapists who became more than medical providers. They were a support system.

“It made me want to be someone else’s support system when they are having a challenging time,” explains Radle.