Cancer victim's memory lives on in library she established for other patients

March 09, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Before Ellen Berger died of ovarian cancer in 1991, she and her husband, Mel, agreed to use a portion of her life insurance to establish a library in her memory.

"One of her wishes was to remain home as much as possible and to set up this library," Mr. Berger said. "This was sort of the last wish."

Today, a small collection of books, pamphlets, audio and video cassettes overflows a shelf in the Health Education Center at Howard County General Hospital. Each is inscribed: "In loving memory of Ellen Berger by her family."

The materials cover various types of cancer, as well as nutrition, chemotherapy and the emotional impact of the disease on patients and their families.

The books and materials reflect the cancers of members who belong to the I Can Cope cancer support group, which meets twice monthly in the Health Education Center.

Ms. Berger participated in the group for nearly two years before dying at the age of 47.

Mr. Berger said his wife came up with the idea after observing group members exchange tapes, books and other materials during meetings.

"My wife felt it would be a good idea to do this on a formal basis," Mr. Berger said.

The Columbia woman was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1977. After a long-term remission, she was struck by ovarian cancer in 1988.

Pam Russell, co-leader of I Can Cope, recalls Ms. Berger as "very courageous in fighting the disease. She was very supportive of others. She tried to use her experiences as much as possible to help others."

Ms. Berger and her husband decided to donate $1,500 from her $5,000 life insurance policy to the American Cancer Society to establish the library.

The library "was one of the things we had discussed. She knew her chances weren't very high," Mr. Berger said. "In the last few months, the cancer had spread to her lungs."

The library opened in November after I Can Cope leaders examined the hospital's Health Sciences Library and the Howard County Public Library.

"They weren't suitable or designed to handle people coming at odd hours," said Suzie Tornatore, co-leader of I Can Cope.

Cancer support group leaders also wanted to preserve the books as a collection.

"The public library wasn't suitable because it would lose that memory of Ellen, which was important," Ms. Russell said. "That would be lost when the books get mixed in with everything else. It would lose its uniqueness."

Ms. Russell and Ms. Tornatore chose the books by perusing the public library and soliciting suggestions from I Can Cope members.

Finally, they ordered materials from Crown Books and Waldenbooks.

The materials, listed by subject and author, are geared to help patients cope with cancer.

"These are written to the lay person's ability to comprehend," said Cindi Miller, director of nursing at Howard County General Hospital.

All the materials are approved by the Howard County American Cancer Society.

"Even if one person used it, it will have achieved its mission," Ms. Miller said.

I Can Cope leaders are making plans to expand the library.

"As new books come out and develop, we will buy more," Ms. Russell said.

Hours for the library are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday; and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

For information, call 740-7600.

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