Hope Starts Here Breast Cancer Event
The Hope Starts Here Pink Mask Tricky Tray Party held on Thursday, October 1st was a welcomed pink ray of sunshine for those affected by breast cancer in need of a night of socially responsible fun and relaxation. The 4th annual event, held at Zeppelin Hall Biergarten, had been delayed over several months because of the pandemic, but as luck would have it, the event was finally able to happen in October, coinciding with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Those entering the event had their temperatures checked by volunteers from the Jersey City Medical Center, including Mammo Tech Reza Cailles and RN Christine Lacap, then given a form and a gift bag filled with raffle tickets, info and a pink mask to wear at the event, which took place inside and out in the courtyard.
Giving out some of those bags was host Dr. Julie Digioia, a breast cancer surgeon with offices in Jersey City and Summit as well as affiliations with Overlook Hospital and Jersey City Medical Center, among others. Born and raised (and practicing in) Jersey City, Dr. Digioia came from a family of doctors practicing in the area, and decided to devote her life to helping others as well, starting off as a trauma surgeon in Newark. She limited her practice to breast diseases in 1990 after having her children and seeing how the specialty was beginning to evolve with new technology. Partnered with her husband, Dr. Stephen Hall, Chief of Plastic Surgery at Jersey City Medical Center, the two work together with patients from start to finish with surgery and breast reconstruction.
When her children were about to go to college, Dr. Digioia herself was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to take on the role of the patient. The experience gave her the unique ability to see, feel, and understand more fully what the people she treated had to go through now that she was a survivor as well.
“One thing that we like to believe is that because we have been through this as a couple as well as surgeons, we have a special bond, like veterans of war,” said Dr. Digioia. “We can get through this together. We’re very family-oriented in the sense that we like to stay involved with our patients and know they can always find us if they need anything.”
Part of the proceeds of the night were donated to Hudson County Breast Cancer Services, including the new Englewood Health facility coming to Journal Square in 2021 where Dr. Digioia has been appointed Director of the breast cancer division. The facility will offer a variety of services, including primary care, urgent care, cancer screening, breast screening and imaging, OB/GYN, and more.
“We have a lot of work to do in Jersey City,” said Dr. Digioia. “We have a lot of patients with cancer who are afraid to leave their homes for any reason and I need them to know there’s a safe place to go. We are recruiting the best doctors we can who are already practicing in this area, so that we can organize them in one place to offer multidisciplinary care. I’m excited about it. Anything good for Jersey City, I’m all for.”
The event was also held in honor of Viola Richardson, who spent her life as both a Jersey City councilwoman and police officer and a breast cancer survivor, but tragically lost her battle with COVID-19 in April 2020. Part of the proceeds from the event were donated to her church, Trinity Lutheran Church, and a handmade Hope wreath was presented to the Church as a gift.
Among the prizes offered at the benefit were 112 tricky tray baskets, 80 put together and donated by Dr. Digioia, and three silent auctions including a 7-night stay in a resort in Antigua, donated by Madeline Lore of the Madeline Fiadini Lore Foundation for Cancer Prevention. The baskets held themed goodies, ranging from Halloween decorations and sweets to spa products to cocktail mixes and glasses. There were also grand prizes of $200 worth of lottery cards and Traeger Smoker/Barbeque valued at $1,000.
Due to coronavirus restrictions, just about 100 tickets were able to be sold, which is a smaller number of attendees than in past years, yet between extra raffle sales, handkerchiefs, and silent auctions, the event was still able to raise thousands of dollars to benefit Hudson County Breast Cancer Services and Trinity Lutheran Church. These supporters were not only the doctors’ good friends and family, but patients, oncology coworkers, and survivors.
“People come here to celebrate that they woke up in the morning and are celebrating life,” said Diane Gogates, a former patient of Dr. Digioia and Dr. Hall who is currently one year free of breast cancer. “If it wasn’t for Dr. Digioia and her team, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you.”
There were also those who had lost a family member and wanted to do all they could to support other families affected by the disease.
“Breast cancer means a lot to me and my family,” said Denise Grasso, attending with her parents Chris and Nancy in honor of her late cousin Christina. “Unfortunately, I lost my cousin Christina Vitaliano a few years ago due to breast cancer stage 4, so the fight against breast cancer means the world to me. Dr. Julie Digioia and Dr. Stephen Hall have put their hearts and souls into fighting breast cancer, and their patients mean the world to them. They’re amazing doctors and would do anything for their patients to help save them and be a guiding light for them.”
During the course of the evening, between lots of masked, socially distanced coming together of friends, family, and survivors, Dr. Digioia urged everyone to stay up-to-date on mammograms and colonoscopies and to continue celebrating the lives of those lost to or currently fighting cancer while uplifting survivors. At the end of the night, pink carnations were given out to survivors that also held a message of hope and love, a reflection of a beautiful night filled with both.