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FP Resident Stays ‘inTouch,’ Pays It Forward

Scare with cancer, friends touching story prompts iPad sharing program for long-term stay hospital patients

August 10, 2011 was supposed to be the best day of Patsy Ann Joinnides’ life. After the Floral Park resident met with representatives from P.S. 203 in Bayside, Queens she came away with a teaching position; a job Joinnides always dreamed of attaining.

This milestone came after working tirelessly in pursuit of a master’s degree in childhood education from Adelphi University in January 2009, while working full time and managing a home and family.

Joinnides worked in numerous school districts as a substitute teacher in Queens and Nassau County. She couldn’t wait to share the new development.

Patsy raced home and called her cousin Christine, a third-grade teacher in New York City, to break the news. After she got off the phone, Joinnides felt the sudden urge to use the restroom. What a soon-to-follow doctor’s appointment revealed put an abrupt end to her new teaching career.

Doctors found a mass on her bladder.

“One of the only ways you know you have bladder cancer…well, I had no symptoms, which was a surprise. I was in great shape.”

A main contributor to bladder cancer is smoking, an activity Joinnides admitted to doing, but quit sometime before that fateful day in August. No symptoms surfaced and no warning signs occurred; it just snuck up on her.

Joinnides, 59, was diagnosed with stage 2/3-muscle invasive bladder cancer on Sept. 1, 2011 and underwent extensive chemotherapy. She said it came out of nowhere.

“I was just urinating pure blood,” she said. “I never gave up hope, I never lost my sense of humor and I never lost sight of the fact that I wanted to help other cancer patients. God had another plan for me,” she stated. “They said I needed to see a urologist right away.”

Joinnides had surgery on Jan. 27. Doctors removed her bladder, cervix, part of her small intestine, had a complete hysterectomy, appendectomy and removed 29 lymph nodes (there are between 500 and 600 in the human body).

After biopsies, everything came back clear of cancer. She has an MRI scheduled for December and has since taught in the Franklin Square School District.

“It’s been tough,” Joinnides said. “It struck me when I would go for chemo and I would see people pull up in a cab and they had nobody. I had my husband, my sons, my cousins and my friends and this network of people were all there to support me. I wanted to make sure people receive what I received.”

Some of the causes of bladder cancer include chemical exposure and a bad diet, but there’s one chief cause, according to Dr. Aaron Katz, chairman of urology at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola.

“The main cause [for bladder cancer] in this country is three things: Tobbaco…tobacco…and tobacco,” said Katz. “The symptoms are usually urinary frequency and blood in the urine and especially as a tumor, which grows into the bladder wall, it can cause a disruption or breakage in one of the blood vessels, and you can have blood in the urine.”

The Story Of Michael And Staying ‘inTouch’

The toll the closing months of 2011 and first few months of 2012 put life in perspective for Joinnides. She wanted to show the same treatment she was shown in her time of need by family, doctors and friends.

However, it was a touching story from her husband about his co-worker that sent Joinnides down the philanthropic path of creating inTouch Inc. The nonprofit organization provides people with iPads and other electronic communication devices that endure long-term hospital stays, to stay connected with family.

“I was trying to think of things to do and the story of Michael fell in my lap,” she said.

A father of two and a third on the way, Michael was diagnosed with leukemia. He had limited visitation rights due to the severity of his condition, but an iPad purchase by his co-workers gave Michael the ability to “visit” his children.

The gift couldn’t come close to topping the present he received during his hospital stay: the birth of his third child, viewed from his hospital room.

“I FaceTimed with my parents, my wife, my kids, my friends and even co-workers. The best was being in the delivery room with my wife while she gave birth. The iPad made it all possible,” said Michael, according to a quote listed on intouchcharities.org.

Michael passed away in July.

“[His wife] wrote the most beautiful thank you note of how he was able to read bedtime stories to his girls through FaceTime,” Joinnides stated. “When you’re sick, you really don’t want your loved ones to know how bad you feel, I said to [Michael] ‘if you really need to vent, you can tell me.’ We became cancer buddies.”

Katz also had a personal experience with leukemia. His 18-year-old son recently fought a battle with the dreadful disease and recently received a bone marrow transplant. Like Michael, Katz saw the gift of giving in the form of technology.

“My son just went through very tough treatments with chemotherapy for leukemia,” Katz stated. “He had a very long hospital stay. The kids in town chipped in and bought him an iPad so he can FaceChat with his friends.”

Joinnides donated four iPads to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer in New York City and another four to New York Presbyterian Hospital. She sent another four iPads to NYU Langone Medical Center on Oct. 18.

“I wanted to pay it forward,” she said. “So many kindnesses were shown to me and my family.”