Good sports: Medical student arranges hat donations for young cancer patients

Medical student Shunqing Zhang lets cancer patient Connor Stanton, 10, choose from a collection of New Era hats. The youngster (son of Rebecca Quilty of Whitney Point) was especially pleased to find one for his favorite NFL team, the Seattle Seahawks. (PHOTO BY JIM McKEEVER)

Medical student Shunqing Zhang lets cancer patient Connor Stanton, 10, choose from a collection of New Era hats. The youngster (son of Rebecca Quilty of Whitney Point) was especially pleased to find one for his favorite NFL team, the Seattle Seahawks. (PHOTO BY JIM McKEEVER)

BY JIM McKEEVER

It started with a simple, two-word compliment.

Upstate second-year medical student Shunqing Zhang was volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House last summer when he saw an adolescent boy wearing a cap with the logo of the Cleveland Cavaliers professional basketball team.

“Nice cap!” Zhang told him.

Zhang learned that the boy was being treated at the Upstate Cancer Center. The cap had been a gift from the staff, who would regularly purchase caps for sports-minded patients who lose their hair from chemotherapy. The center receives many donations of toys and gifts appropriate for cheering up little kids – but few things that appeal to older kids.

With guidance from a child life specialist at the center, Zhang reached out to a woman he met while working on his master’s degree at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo. The woman, a Syracuse University graduate, works for New Era Cap Co.

As Zhang describes, his request was well received. Now, a box of three or four dozen caps representing a variety of professional and college teams arrives every month. The company sends warm hats, instead of caps, as the weather turns cold. Cancer Center staff enjoy being able to present a patient with head coverings that promote his or her favorite team.

Zhang, who is from China, plans to specialize in oncology, partly because his grandfather died from the disease. He got his bachelor’s degree in biology from Cornell University and a master’s degree in interdisciplinary science at Roswell Park before starting medical school at Upstate.

He keeps his perspective by spending time with children and their parents at the Ronald McDonald House, which provides lodging to families during children’s medical treatment. While the patients are grateful for the caps to cover their heads, it’s Zhang who is grateful for New Era’s generosity.

Layout 1This article appears in the winter 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine. 

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