2019 Tree of Hope Honored Caregivers


Close to the Heart

Lighting the Way

Linda Wert & Bernie Conklin and their kids

Warm Greetings

Sandy Cohen, Supportive Care and Survivorship Center Advisory Board Chair, her guest, and Kim Patierno

Spirit of the Season

Heather Harris and her husband, kidney cancer survivor Todd Harris

In Memory, In Support, in Love

Shine On

Medical family therapist Ben Weast, LPC, ceremonially lights the Tree of Hope

Supporting Our Patients

Cheyenne Corbett, PhD, LMFT (director, Duke Cancer Patient Support Program) Ben Weast, LPC (medical family therapist), Kimberly Powers (caregiver), Steven Patierno, PhD (deputy director, DCI)

Caregiver Insight

Kimberly Powers cared for her father Percy Glenn Boyette, who passed away from melanoma.

Deputy director of DCI, Steven Patierno addresses guests at the Duke Cancer Center.


Sandra Santos & Billy Gonzalez

Caring Team

Jennifer Kennedy-Stovall, (director, DCI Patient Access), Emily Norboge, MPA (director, Oncology Clinical and Research Information Technology), Robin Famiglietti, PhD (chief administrator, DCI), Steven Patierno, PhD (deputy director of DCI)

(Be sure to click through all 15 slides above.)

More than 250 members of Duke Cancer Institute's Duke Cancer Patient Support Program community came together on Thursday, December 5, at the Nancy Weaver Emerson 29th Annual Tree of Hope Lighting Ceremony, to honor loved ones and recognize those who support people through the challenges of cancer.

The event featured a reception and a program at Duke Cancer Center where caregivers, as a whole, were recognized as the 2019 Light of Hope honorees, followed by a ceremonial lighting of the Tree of Hope. 

“The Tree of Hope and all its lights symbolize the strength and hope of those coping with cancer,” said director of the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program, Cheyenne Corbett, PhD, LMFT. “On the tree’s uppermost branch is the light of hope, which recognizes those who have made a significant difference in the lives of those facing cancer. This year we are recognizing all those who are caregivers. Caregivers are often thought of as spouses or children of patients, but they are also parents, other family members or friends, and professional caregivers like our faculty and staff.”

Ben Weast, LPC, a medical family therapist who’s retiring this month, was the evening's keynote speaker. Corbett said Weast had helped countless patients and caregivers while serving the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program (DCPSP) for the past 12 years. She read some of their testimonials, including this one addressed to Weast: “Not a day goes by that I don’t remember you and how you helped me with the emotional rollercoaster that cancer gives, as much as the physical component."

When Weast spoke, he brought the attention back to the family-and-friends kind of caregivers who, he said, “perceive the pain of another and step forward to provide compassionate support.”

“They labor persistently and often beyond the limits of their own health, leaving no stone unturned as they support the person they love,” said Weast. “Sometimes caregiver just rolls off our lips like it’s another term, but for 12 years I’ve watched in support groups, I’ve watched in families, community being built because of care being given in that role.”

Caregiver Kimberly Boyette Powers, who lost her father Percy Glenn Boyette (62) to cancer in 2015, took the podium to speak about what it was like for her, her sister, her mom and even her six-year-old niece, to care for Boyette and work through the emotional toll it took on the family. 

“Unfortunately, our journey went quickly,” said Powers, who shared that her father's initial diagnosis was melanoma that had spread to the brain, “but I can proudly say that there were two really bright lights that shined during some of those incredibly dark days for my dad. The first, his caregivers, the second, Ben (Weast) with the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program.”

“If you have the opportunity to provide care, please do,” she continued. “I doubt you’ll ever regret it.”

Deputy director of Duke Cancer Institute Steven Patierno, PhD, shared his own up-close-and-personal reflection on caregiving for a brother-in-law (67) and niece (17) — both with stage 4 lymphoma.

“My wife Kim and I witnessed the extraordinary impact that family and friends and caregivers have on the spirit and soul of cancer patients,” he said. “Does it come as a surprise that In the face of calamity, in the face of the storms of life, including a diagnosis of cancer, that our spirits would find solace in community? Should we be shocked that it’s actually the shared joy of fellowship, the micro-moments of interactive human kindness, which have the power to stave off fear and bring comfort to the aching soul? Each of us, regardless of the nature of the challenges we are facing, need to wrap such micro-moments of warmth around us like protective balls…”

During the second half of the program, guests picked up candles — glimmering lights purchased by family members and friends to honor and memorialize loves ones  — and joined a procession to the Garden of Tranquility. There, the Tree of Hope was ceremonially lit by Weast.

Proceeds from purchased tribute cards and lights help fund the DCPSP, which provides critical services and support to patients at Duke Cancer Institute and in the community who are battling cancer, including medical family therapy, support groups, patient navigation, child-life services, recreation therapy pet therapy, and self-image services free-of-charge. 

Corbett thanked the DCI physicians, staff, volunteers, and donors in attendance.

“It’s an honor to have you hear with us tonight,” said Corbett. “You have all demonstrated unwavering support that has helped the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program become what it is today — providing critical services for families facing cancer, not just here in Durham but across all Duke Cancer Institute locations in Durham County and Wake County. You support and embrace our belief that quality comprehensive cancer care involves attending to issues beyond the traditional scope of medicine.”

Tree of Hope panorama

The annual event was named for Nancy Weaver Emerson of Mebane, North Carolina, who passed away in 2003 after a 20-year battle with cancer. Even while she fought her own battle with cancer, friends say, she continued to work to help and comfort other cancer patients. It was Emerson, who 29 years ago, broached the idea of a Tree of Hope to the founder of DCPSP.