By Ed Morrone
This week’s HEADstrong/Nick’s House volunteer post focuses on Jill Quinn. Jill was inspired to join the foundation’s cause after a chance encounter with HEADstrong President Cheryl Colleluori during a HEADstrong event at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where Jill’s son, Jeffrey, was being treated for leukemia.
Jill Quinn’s involvement with the HEADstrong Foundation began by chance during the most difficult time of her life.
Her son was in the hospital undergoing his first round of chemotherapy for leukemia when Quinn noticed on a hallway bulletin board that HEADstrong was hosting a showing of the movie Invincible with Vince Papale, the real-life former Philadelphia Eagles player the film is based on.
“I thought, ‘Oh, that sounds like so much fun! Let’s go do that,’” Quinn recalled. “Cheryl and I struck up a dialogue because my son was 21 at the time (of diagnosis), the same as her Nick. She shared with me her story, gave me her card and said, ‘If you ever want to talk, just give me a call.’”
Quinn appreciated the sincerity of the offer, but didn’t anticipate ever taking Colleluori up on it.
“I thought, ‘We’ve got this. My son and I are not going to need HEADstrong,’” Quinn said. “Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out the way we hoped. Jeff had a complication from chemo; even though he was technically cancer-free, the chemo caused a rare blood clot.”
Jeffrey Quinn passed away on Aug. 25, 2016 at the age of 22. Jill decided at that time that it was time to retire from the bank’s IT department where she had worked at for almost 30 years, oftentimes racking up 60-hour work weeks that stretched into the weekend, taking time away from her family life. Following her son’s untimely passing, Quinn wanted to give back in more of a direct way that involved more than just writing donation checks.
“Obviously, giving money and fundraising is important,” Quinn said. “But I wanted to do something more hands-on. I wanted to work with people, like I knew that HEADstrong did.”
Quinn contacted Colleluori to share her new philanthropic desires. Colleluori told Quinn about Nick’s House Swarthmore, which was in the early stage of renovations. The two worked together on a Bed, Bath & Beyond registry for household items.
Quinn volunteers at Nick’s House every Friday, and referred to herself as “a concierge” when describing her responsibilities. She helps with standard households chores, and also loves working outside in the property’s ample garden space.
But Quinn’s favorite part of lending her time as a HEADstrong volunteer is the people she has met along the way.
“More often than not, the majority of people staying here want to talk, they want the company,” she said. “They want to hear your story while sharing theirs. I love getting to know them and their extended family. When they leave, I hug them and get their contact info, because I want to know the outcome.
“I find it very uplifting to be able to do something in my retirement, to pay it forward and help others in my son’s memory. When you’re touched by cancer, it’s life-changing. Before my son got sick, I was all work, work, work. Once cancer touches you, you need to put things in perspective. So many people came to visit, brought us meals, wrote us cards and letters … I realized I had never really done that. I may have thought of people, or sent a quick text, but I was never really present for them.”
Now, Quinn gets to be present every week. Previously uncomfortable around sick people, Quinn is now in her element with cancer patients after the time she spent with Jeffrey in the hospital. She has come to realize what a help Nick’s House can be to people navigating the uncharted waters of a cancer diagnosis. While she and her family only had a 30 to 40-minute drive to the hospital for her son’s care, Quinn understands realizes not everybody is as so fortunate (I think fortunate is more appropriate than lucky, but that’s up to you) lucky.
“I think having a peaceful place like Nick’s House to come home to is a respite for these people,” she said. “It’s part of the healing process. They have people all around them who have walked in their shoes, and it may be enough to give them that extra internal power or strength. It may make the difference.
“I love the fact that I’m meeting so many wonderful people. I pray for them, and I want them to have a happy ending to their cancer story. I think the vast majority will, and they are in good hands here.”
The HEADstrong Foundation™ is a 501(c)3 committed to improving lives affected by cancer, founded by the late Nicholas “HEAD” Colleluori. The non-profit organization plays a vital role as a direct resource to families overcome by the hardships of cancer. HEADstrong provides a variety of services, which range from financial assistance to funding capital projects to peer mentorship and, most notably, HEADstrong operates Nick’s House™, a guest family home providing more than 2,555 nights of complimentary lodging and support to families displaced in the pursuit of life-saving cancer treatment. Today, Nick’s vision is being fulfilled through the relentless efforts of his family, athletes and supporters across the country uniting in the fight against cancer. For more information on the HEADstrong Foundation and how to donate, host a fundraiser or volunteer, please visit www.HEADstrong.org.