If, as the proverb goes, it takes a village to raise a child, it can take a small army to raise a child battling cancer.   Following the initial shock of a child’s diagnosis, parents are often required to jump into action in terms of becoming educated about their child’s condition, treatment options, and how to best care for them. They are inundated with medical appointments that they need to keep track of, and make time for. They may have various home care requirements that they must undertake and report back about on. And as they navigate the mazes of systems and services, there is also a need to focus on the emotional needs of their sick child, potential other siblings and the financial impact of the illness.  Oh yah – and then there is just the stress of normal family life and obligations.  For all of these families, they must begin to navigate the shifting roles brought on by illness and the dramatic effect it has on their everyday life and family.  And for all of them, it’s a journey without a road map.

No one knows more intimately than Vasso Paliouras, whose sister Constance, was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s Disease during her junior year in high school.  She is the founder of Lending Hearts, a local non-profit that helps to enhance, enrich & embrace the lives of kids with cancer by providing emotional and social support to children and young adults with cancer and their families.

The organization supports everything from lunches on the oncology floor of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, to educational seminars and art therapy.  Lending Hearts also offers exclusive social gatherings for patients and their families. The events, at popular locations throughout the city, often include special things like behind the scenes tours and private meet & greets.  The goal is to provide these families a slight reprieve from the daily struggles of their illness, and an opportunity to bond together and with others in similar circumstances.

Her works seem to have pulled on the hearts strings of a lot of locals who recently gathered at the Fairmont on February 25 for the 2016 Lending Hearts Gala.  More than 250 people joined Honorary Event Chair, Dr. Stanley Mark, Chairman, UPMC Cancer Center and Master of Ceremonies, KDKA’s Mr. Bob Pompeani, to raise funds for Lending Hearts Programs.  Guests enjoyed dinner, live and silent auctions and honored two people who have “Lent their hearts” to those in the fight against cancer & the Lending Hearts Mission.  Pittsburgh Councilman, Corey O’Connor was honored with the Lending Hearts Friend Award and Mr. Knox Cutter, a junior at Shady Side Academy, was recognized with the Lending Hearts Ambassador Award.

Highlights from the evening also included a video with scenes from the Lending Hearts & Bodiography Contemporary Ballet documentary, Unseen, held January 15 and 16th at the Byham Theater.  The all-female company and several guest artists performed seven diverse works including two premieres, beginning with Caruso’s “The Lending Heart.” The 25-minute ballet, set to music by the Blue Man Group, was inspired by the stories of eight cancer patients, ages 7 to 26, from the Lending Hearts organization, who also performed in the work.