First Lori Waltenbury’s dad got cancer, then her aunt did.
On the days she went with them to treatment in the past year, Waltenbury considered her job part chauffeur, part distraction.
During drives to the hospital and during sessions, she would start conversations about family or “the silly questionnaire” they filled out during treatment. Anything, she said, to take their minds off the chemicals so strong that hospital employees had to wear a protective suit.
Afterward, at home, she’d help her aunt learn how to tie headscarves.
It was her aunt who warned her about the sign on the hospital’s parking gate in Barrie, Ontario. It would be the first thing they saw when they got there — 50 feet from the main entrance:
Adams Funeral Home and Cremation Services Ltd., the sign read. “Caring | Compassionate | Professional.”
“This just dampened our spirits,” Waltenbury told The Washington Post. “It’s just completely insensitive. ... People are suffering and fighting for their lives every day. And they’re supposed to be fighting with us.”
“But the sign says if [patients] choose not to fight this battle, or if they lose, we have a place for you. It’s just a little too much forward thinking.”
Still, Waltenbury’s family didn’t see the Royal Victoria Regional Health Center cancer treatment center as some cold, uncaring monolith. It saved her father’s life. The doctors were helping her aunt fight for hers. The family was angry, but it wanted to give the hospital a chance to do the right thing.
“I said, ‘When we go tomorrow, we’ll go talk to the people at the hospital and see how they respond,’ ” Waltenbury said. “And if they don’t, we'll post it online.”
The response — from the half a dozen or so hospital officials they talked to that day — was lukewarm. “Everyone thought that we were just kind of being crazy.”
So Waltenbury logged on to Facebook and posted a picture of the sign and a livid diatribe directed at the hospital:
“Why do you feel it SO important to remind our loved ones EVERY time they go in for treatment that just in case they (lose) their fight, just in case they give up … that there’s a funeral home just waiting for our business?”
The post has been shared more than 1,100 times since Thursday. And dozens of people chimed in.
“Funeral home advertising in a hospital is just disturbing no matter where it is put,” Danielle Gouett commented on the post. “But definitely agree that very little thought was put into this particular placement at the cancer centre.”
@royalvictoriahospital I've got a bone to pick with you. Please stop advertising funeral homes on the parking entrance 2 your cancer ward :(
— Lori Waltenbury (@LoriWaltenbury) September 30, 2016
Waltenbury's viral post caught the hospital’s attention. On Friday, it posted a statement on its Facebook page.
“Please allow us to say ‘we are sorry,’ ”the statement said. “Patients are at the centre of everything we do at RVH and this advertisement on a parking lot gate arm is not in keeping with that commitment.
“The placement was insensitive and short-sighted. Although advertising revenue does support patient programs, this ad — visible to vulnerable, brave patients and families who deserve nothing but our care and compassion — was simply wrong. RVH staff removed the gate advertisement early this morning.
“Again, we offer you our most sincere apologies. We will do better.”
The owner of Adams Funeral Home also responded. In a statement on its website, Adams said the ad was a way to support the cancer center, which helped the owner’s wife fight the disease.
“Let me apologize to those that this advertising has offended as that certainly wasn’t our intent,” the statement on the website says.
“I agreed to advertise in this way as all proceeds from the advertising go directly to the RVH Foundation for the purchase of hospital equipment and this was a way in which we could support our local hospital. Two years ago my wife Lorie and I were through those gates on a regular basis as Lorie underwent treatment for breast cancer. Because of this, we have great empathy for people going through those gate arms.”
The statement says the owner requested that the advertising be placed in less conspicuous places around the hospital, a request that wasn’t honored.
But, most important for Waltenbury, the funeral home asked that the advertisement come down.
Waltenbury said she still has questions. Placing the funeral ad in that spot was a choice, not a random occurrence, and she wants to know who authorized the placement.
Her viral post has also shown her family the power of social media. She said they are considering a crowdfunding campaign to put up a new sign on the entry gate near the cancer center.
She hasn't worked out exactly what it would say, but it would be “something along the lines of ‘You matter. Keep fighting.’ ”