Patients may not know that our mission at Riverside is to care for others as we would those we love. But they can feel it.

Jenny Crittenden of Deltaville is living proof. After her diagnosis with breast cancer late last year, Riverside became part of her journey – from the first step of getting a mammogram and ultrasound at Riverside Walter Reed Hospital within a day of reporting a suspicious lump … to oncologist Magi Khalil responding immediately when Crittenden needed help weighing her options … to surgeon Marshall Cross's extraordinary compassion as she faced a double mastectomy at age 44.

Crittenden had never heard of the Riverside Care Difference – or our promise to keep our patients safe, help heal them, respect their wishes and be kind to them – but "I felt that," she said. "I felt that from people who took care of me."

Giving back
Crittenden is grateful that her cancer was caught early. And now she's giving back – along with her son, Vaughan, who was inspired by his mother's battle to spearhead a fundraiser to help other local patients facing cancer. The Langley Speedway Pink Project will be held on Saturday, Oct. 5, during Modified Madness Night at the track in Hampton. Proceeds from a Victory Track Walk held prior to the race will go to the Riverside Health System Tree of Life Cancer Fund, along with half the value of all race tickets purchased through Riverside.

"I wanted to help the community and help the people who helped my mom," Vaughan Crittenden said.

The family chose Riverside as their gifting destination because all the funds stay in our local communities. Another big plus was that each dollar raised goes directly to a cancer patient who needs help, as the health system provides overhead and administrative costs for managing the Tree of Life through the Riverside Foundation.

"We wanted to be able to impact patients in the community," Jenny Crittenden said. "We wanted to make sure 100 percent of the proceeds go to patients, whether it's education and prevention or treatment and procedures."

Tree of Life helps area cancer patients
The Tree of Life Cancer Fund helps people with immediate needs, such as electric bills, transportation to doctor appointments, rent or medication. Recently the fund enabled an Eastern Shore man to pay his health insurance premiums until he was well enough to work again. Patient navigators at Riverside, including Yvonne Pike, connect those in need to the Tree of Life Cancer Fund when other resources have been exhausted.

Requests for help are processed quickly. "It's incredible," Pike said. "I've had a check in 24 hours a number of times. It's beyond amazing. It can make a difference between a patient being able to stay in treatment or not being able to stay in treatment."

Inability to work through their illness is a problem for many with cancer. Those with jobs that are physically demanding typically have to take a leave of absence. They can lose their positions and their health insurance.

"People actually drop out of treatment because they can't work," Pike said. "They have to choose sometimes. Sadly we still see times when patients have to choose between a roof over their head and treatment for cancer."

Jenny Crittenden doesn't want anyone to have to make such a difficult choice. She knows that cancer doesn't discriminate – it can hit anyone, at any time. Her brother is recovering from colon cancer. Two other relatives and a number of friends have been diagnosed with breast cancer. With the Langley Speedway Pink Project, she's hoping to cast a wide net so that patients facing the illness realize they're not alone.

Son inspired to take action
For her son, a 22-year-old student at James Madison University, it's also about empowering people who want to help. From the moment his mother confirmed her cancer diagnosis, he couldn't shake the feeling that he needed to take action. The next night, he decorated his winged champ kart with pink tape for his last race of the season at Langley Speedway, where he's been competing since he was 12. He noticed other drivers also had pink on display in more subtle ways. "But everybody was doing it on their own," he said. It struck him that "all these people have the spirit to want to do something."

Arranging a fund-raiser at the track, where Crittenden is currently completing an internship, felt like a natural fit. Langley Speedway is a hometown track with racing levels from amateur to semi-pro where locals can go to watch future NASCAR champions. Stars who have raced there include Richard Petty, Jimmie Johnson, Adam Petty and Denny Hamlin.

Crittenden believes that NASCAR and hometown racing fans have a generous spirit that will propel events like the Pink Project forward, maybe onto a wider stage. He's hoping to draw at least 4,000 on Oct. 5. Cost of tickets is $10 per person.

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