Cancer survivor inspired by other patients in need
Getting a diagnosis of Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer could have ruined Priscilla Westaway’s 49th birthday and the rest of her life. But she refused to let it. “When I decided I was going to do something, I said, ‘I believe anything and everything is possible,’” Priscilla explained. “If you believe, you can make anything happen.” That is why she named her charitable foundation The Believe Anything and Everything is Possible Foundation. Now, she works to raise money to help fellow cancer patients at the Lahey Cancer Institute.
Priscilla was inspired to act by her strong support system. “At first, I thought that [diagnosis] was my death sentence,” Priscilla said. She admitted that it was her sister, Renee Hutchinson, who snapped her out of it. “My sister said, ‘Well, this is treatable, right?’ And I started to listen again.”
Renee was just as scared, but she had faith in Priscilla. “I just thought I was going to lose her, but Priscilla is a fighter,” Renee said. “And I wasn’t going to let it get her down.”
The art of helping others
After the initial shock set in and Priscilla started getting her treatments at Lahey Medical Center, Peabody, she took inventory of her life. Sitting in the waiting room for her infusions, she realized what cancer patients like her were up against. Some were out of work because of their rigorous treatments. Some couldn’t afford their co-pays or they had a hard time getting rides to their appointments.
“I just sat and listened to people’s stories or observed in the waiting room,” Priscilla said. “Some people, the only meal that they’re getting for that day is the one they get when they go in for treatment. That’s their meal for the day.”
Priscilla wanted to give back, and she found her inspiration in the art and photography classes she was taking at Northern Essex Community College.
She founded her foundation in 2018 and raised more than $10,000 her first year, selling original photography and raffle items. Now, she hosts an annual art gala at the college in Haverhill and gives the proceeds to the Lahey Cancer Institute, which serves patients at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington and affiliated hospitals in Peabody, Winchester, Beverly and Gloucester. Staff at the Cancer Institute use the money to pay for groceries, transportation and other costs insurance won’t cover for cancer patients in need.
All of the colorful pieces on the floor at the art gala every year are Priscilla’s original works. The vases, bowls and decorations are all crowd favorites. She rarely takes home leftovers.
“We get artists in the community to submit art. We sell their art and I blow glass,” Priscilla explained. “And I only blow glass for this event.”
Pointing to a purple vase and bowl, Priscilla pointed out the impact one sale can have. “This set will buy two grocery cards, a gas card, or a co-pay for medication,” she said. “So that’s what that means for me. I don’t just think about the art. I think about the patient.”
Just a few weeks before this year’s fundraiser, Priscilla got great news from her doctor. Her cancer cells are inactive. “What that means is that the treatment is 100-percent working,” Priscilla said. “It doesn’t mean that I’m in remission. I will never be in remission.” It’s not a cure, but it means Priscilla will be around for a long time.
Despite how scared she was at first, Priscilla says she is actually glad for everything she has been through. “I look at my cancer as a gift, because if I didn’t have cancer, this all wouldn’t have taken place.”