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At ‘Pathways to Santa,’ a Cancer Survivor Meets the Man Whose Kindness Inspired Her Two Years Earlier

As Deeana Bedics was receiving chemotherapy treatment inside Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Muhlenberg’s Infusion Center during the 2013 holidays, she was handed an envelope. Inside was a gift card from Applebee’s.

“My caregivers told me I received it because of a kind gentleman who ran an event called Pathways to Santa,” says Bedics, 51, of Lehigh Township. “I was told he beat cancer, and this was his way to give back. Right then I decided to do the same.”

On Friday (December 11), Bedics finally met that man – Bruce Smith – during the Pathways to Santa event Smith runs annually at LVH–Muhlenberg. Smith, 66, of Palmer Township, encourages businesses, schools and not-for-profit organizations to participate in the annual winter holiday celebration, in which area team and corporate mascots, musical groups, local athletes and even Santa Claus visit patients and spread holiday cheer. Smith has run Pathways to Santa since 2009 and has secured more than $143,000 in gift donations for cancer patients over those six years.

“Your life changes after you have cancer,” says Smith, who is a lung cancer survivor. “Just working with the wonderful people here after my diagnosis, I knew I had to do something for them. I can truly identify with what these people are going through.”

Following Bruce’s lead

Like Smith, Bedics persevered during her own cancer journey. She was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and liver cancer in March 2013. She underwent six surgeries (including a mastectomy), had eight months of chemotherapy directed by Ranju Gupta, MD, with LVPG Hematology Oncology–Muhlenberg, and had a couple months of radiation therapy. By April 2014, she was cancer free. “But all along, I never forgot that Applebee’s gift card,” she says.

To pay it forward, she put a philanthropic spin on the Bedics Boo Bash, an annual Halloween party hosted by Deeana, her husband Joe, her family and friends.

“We used to decorate our lawn with pumpkins for the party,” Deeana Bedics says. “One day, my co-worker (at Purina Nestle Pet Care in Allentown) said he’d give me $50 if I’d paint one of the pumpkins pink.” Inspired, the family started asking for other donations, and ended up with 156 pink pumpkins “It got to the point where I couldn’t fit any more pumpkins on our lawn,” she says. The family donated all proceeds to LVHN’s cancer program through the infusion center.

The success of the Boo Bash led Bedics to spearhead even more fundraisers to benefit LVHN’s cancer program. Today the family sells pink pumpkins and collects “coins for chemo” at a craft sale and carnival at a nearby church. “We’ve also held bake sales, yard sales and an open-air flea market,” Bedics says. “And we hosted a halpuki dinner that raised $2,000.”

‘It takes a village’The fundraising is a family affair. Deeana’s daughter, Christina, handles a lot of baking, as do friends and colleagues. Her sons JoJo, Kevin and Robbie pick up donations, make deliveries and help out wherever possible.

“Since my diagnosis, my family, friends and co-workers have been there for me all the time,” Deeana Bedics says. “It a village to raise money for a good cause, and I’ve been lucky to have so many people helping. I can’t thank them enough, just like I can’t thank LVHN and Dr. Gupta enough.”

And on Friday, Bedics finally got to personally thank Bruce Smith for the Applebee’s gift card that started it all.

It was an extra special day for two other infusion center patients as well. Kevin Alpaugh of East Stroudsburg and Jodee Cook of Walnutport each received two tickets to a Lehigh Valley Phantoms game and a performance at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival.

Participants in this year’s Pathways to Santa included:

Santa Claus, Moravian College Women’s Basketball Team, the Penn State University Nittany Lion, Lehigh University’s Clutch the Mountain Hawk, the Lafayette College Leopard, Moravian College’s Amos the Greyhound, Bethlehem Catholic High School’s Golden Hawk, the PBS Telebear, Tuxter from Lehigh Valley Zoo, MeLVin from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Tricky from Pocono Raceway, the Just Born Peep, Applebee’s Bee, the Chick-Fil-A Cow, McDonald’s Ronald McDonald, Red from Red Robin, Bolt from Aardvark, Applebee’s Bee and Apple, the Gecko from Geico Insurance, Olaf the Snowman from “Frozen” and Stewart the Minion from “Despicable Me.”

Musical performances were provided by:

Whitehall High School Chorus, Liberty High School Music Ensembles, Chorus, Brass, Woodwinds, Strings and Bagpiper, Northampton High School Chorus, Easton Area Youth Chorus, Lehigh Valley Brass Quartet.

Smith offered special thanks to all the local businesses that donated time and food for the cancer unit employees for this special event, including: Olive Garden Whitehall, Feasta Pizza Schoenersville, Applebee’s Cedar Crest Boulevard, Outback Steakhouse Bethlehem Township, Buffalo Wild Wings Easton, Red Lobster Whitehall and The Red Robin Promenade Shoppes Saucon Valley, Scheetz Schoenersville Road and Route 248, and Sodexo.