Mercy Cancer Center tree a labor of love

Fred Pillsbury lost his wife six years ago to cancer, and he still considers her the love of his life.

The Atwater resident honors his wife every year by buying an ornament to hang on a Christmas tree that dominates the waiting area of Mercy Cancer Center in Merced.

"We were soul mates," Pillsbury said. "Buying an ornament for her really helps me."

Lisa Wegley, spokeswoman for the Mercy Foundation, said the tree has been put up every year for the past four years.

"It's a wonderful cere-mony," Wegley said. "It highlights and honors the loved ones in our life."

Kathleen Stefani will be hanging an ornament on the tree this year in honor of Joe and Mary Stefani, her parents. She also remembers her brother, Bob Stefani, and all her relatives who succumbed to cancer.

"My (other) brother and I feel very blessed," Stefani said. "We know the challenge of cancer care." At the ceremony, people come to honor their loved ones.

Wegley emphasized that the tree is not just for cancer victims and survivors.

"It's really a representation of the healing mission of the hospital," Wegley said.

The ceremony to honor victims and survivors will be held Dec. 3 at 5:30 p.m. at Mercy Cancer Center.

There will be a reflection ceremony followed by tree lighting and refreshments.

People can buy ornaments ranging from $25 to $1,000. All the proceeds go to fund the cancer center.

The money raised in the past has been used for such items as a big-screen television that everyone in a room can see, according to June Brown, director of Mercy Cancer Center.

The money raised has also been used to buy bus passes for people who have a hard time getting a ride to the center.

"Some of these people have to have treatment every day, and that gets expensive," Brown said.

Stefani said this time of year is challenging for many families.

"We remember who is gone, and the holidays are especially tough," Stefani said. "This is our way of honoring those who have passed."