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Pink Heals Fire Truck Pays Cancer-Stricken Nurse Surprise Visit


On the same day she was set to begin the first of 28 radiation sessions, a Northwell Health nurse battling stage 2 pancreatic cancer received an emotional visit from a well-travelled pink fire truck driven by volunteer firefighters in support of women with cancer. Kathleen Donlon, RN, a nurse at The Smith Institute for Urology, was surprised at work by a convoy of three public safety vehicles sponsored by the Arizona-based nonprofit Pink Heals.

The July 3 rally could not have been more apt. Ms. Donlon, of East Meadow, hails from a family of firefighters. Her father was a 52-year veteran of the Bethpage Fire Department, her mother once served as president of the local ladies auxiliary and each of her four younger brothers have done stints as firefighters. That includes Michael Donlon, a battalion fire chief for the District of Columbia Fire and EMS who helped set up the Pink Heals visit.

"The mission of pink heals is to embrace people who have cancer and make them smile," said Mr. Donlon, who made the trek from Washington DC to be on hand for his sister. "Kathy cried, but it's heartwarming. Today will actually mark her first radiation treatment later this afternoon. But what a great day for people to come out and tell her that they love her – and remind her to fight, fight, fight!"

Pink Heals founder Dave Graybill flew in for the visit, presented Ms. Donlon with flowers, along with gift cards to Starbucks, Applebee's and her favorite quilting store, then asked her to sign the side of the massive, pink fire truck.

"How do you make something grow with no money? It's love," said Mr. Graybill. "We do this for free. We spend weeks and months away from our own families to drive the truck to visit a lady we don't even know because someone heard about what we do."

The group, in the midst of a 150-day, 140-city tour, made a heartfelt detour to the parking lot at Northwell Health's Center for Advanced Medicine in Lake Success.

It's where two separate journeys intersected. Ms. Donlon's began last December when tests revealed her cancer. "When this first started, I wanted the pink fire truck to come to Monter Cancer Center," said Ms. Donlon. "I never thought about it being for me."

Ms. Donlon finished up chemotherapy treatment early and returned to work even sooner, by mid-May. But the Northwell veteran has more trials ahead with radiation, followed by surgery and then maintenance therapy.

"It'll be a whole year by the time it's finished," said Ms. Donlon.

"She is near and dear to us. She has been with this department for 11 years," said Carol Olsen, who is director of urology clinical services at The Smith Institute. "She is the senior nurse who has been here the longest and she has been a coworker, colleague, educator to all the nurses, medical assistants and other staff that have come through the Smith Institute. We're honored to have Kathleen with us and we hope to have her many, many more years."

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About Northwell Health
Northwell Health is New York State's largest health care provider and private employer, with 22 hospitals and over 550 outpatient facilities. We care for more than two million people annually in the metro New York area and beyond, thanks to philanthropic support from our communities. Our 62,000 employees – 15,000+ nurses and about 3,900 physicians, including more than 2,800 members of Northwell Health Physician Partners – are working to change health care for the better. We're making breakthroughs in medicine at the Feinstein Institute. We're training the next generation of medical professionals at the visionary Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine and the School of Graduate Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies. And we offer health insurance through CareConnect. For information on our more than 100 medical specialties, visit

Jason Molinet
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