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Published on May 03, 2022

During George Harrison’s cancer journey, support from Cone Health comes in many forms — financial, medical and emotional

George Harrison

Friends often ask George Harrison if he cried that morning in February 2021, when the doctor at Annie Penn Hospital in Reidsville uttered the words “cancer,” “stage 4,” “inoperable” and “incurable” — and was somehow talking about his body, his life. Nope, he tells his friends. No need for tears. Harrison, 43, believed then, as he does now, that faith in God and a positive attitude will overcome these challenges. 

 But you know what did make him cry? When a nurse later told him about Cone Health’s Patient Assistance Fund, which has helped him with utility bills and other expenses since he has been out of work.

“That right there, that just broke me down,” says Harrison, a long-time chef at the Holiday Inn Express in Reidsville. “I could breathe easier.”

The assistance is made possible by Cone Health Philanthropy, which uses a variety of funds to support patients as they receive medical care. In the last year, 1,110 donors made more than 8,500 gifts — a total of $1.5 million to provide transportation, food, emergency assistance and other services to community members in need.

For Harrison, it was help that came at the right time. In the weeks before his diagnosis, he had developed pain in his lower back, something much more severe than a strained muscle. When it became unbearable, he went to Annie Penn, where doctors found a tumor on his spine, and later, more on his lung, beside his heart, on his neck and on his hip. “I went from living my normal life one day to overnight getting this diagnosis,” he says. “And, initially yes, it did scare me. It would scare anybody.” He worried about his job, his family, his future.  

The fear didn’t last long. Harrison remembered what his father, a local pastor, said during all the sermons he heard him deliver over the years: “You’ve got to have faith.” Those words sustained him as he completed his first round of chemotherapy at Annie Penn, where state-of-the-art equipment limited his trips to Greensboro to just two in one year. Those seven-hour chemo treatments, which he completed wearing Superman socks, shrunk his tumors just like the oncologists had hoped, giving him the most precious gift of all: time.

“That’s what has kept me so far. Faith,” he says. “It’s just a miracle from God that I’m still alive right now with my diagnosis.”

He knows this may sound strange, but he’s actually looking forward to the start of his second round of chemo, which this time will take only 2 ½ hours per session. He’s excited to see Annie Penn staff again, who treated him with “so much compassion,” he says. If he’s feeling up to it, he plans to bake for them again, loading them down with cheesecakes and lemon bars to show his gratitude. “The way they act towards you, it makes it even better. Because you don’t get that kind of treatment from everybody,” he says, laughing. 

If he knew who they were, he’d also bake a dessert for every donor who helped pay his bills over the past year. Instead, he trusts that God will bless them, just as God has blessed Harrison: “To know that there are donors — people out there willing to help you? And they don’t have to? It’s awesome.”