Front and Center: Shannon StrongPublished on Monday, June 12, 2023By: Jewell Davis, firstname.lastname@example.orgIn a span of eight years, Shannon Strong had two major heart attacks - one of which, she went into cardiac arrest three times, leading her to believe she should not be living right now."I feel like I shouldn’t be here,” said Strong. “I know God kept me on earth to help people.”For close to 30 years, Strong has had the opportunity to tremendously help patients through her career as a skilled pharmacy technician. Nonetheless, she didn’t realize just how much her career choice, coupled with her flare for creativity, would impact the individuals she interacted with at the Cancer Center and Research Institute.The Clinton native didn’t always have her eyes set on the pharmaceutical world. Initially, she thought she would become a teacher and help guide young students in the classroom. The academic aspiration quickly morphed into an after-school job as a program director. However, a random encounter with an experienced pharmacy technician motivated her to transition yet again, but this time, into the pharmaceutical realm.With a crystal clear vision, Strong began working for CCRI as a pharmacy technician in 2004. Eventually, the hospital implemented job restructuring, and she became a pharmacy technician III and patient advocate.Strong’s dual role enables her to assist underinsured or uninsured patients receive free medication or treatments by collaborating with various pharmaceutical companies. She also helps them complete paperwork and ensures their medication is prepared and ready when they arrive for treatment at the Jackson Medical Mall.“Their medication is an important part of their treatment, so I get to help them with something they’re stressing over,” said Strong. “It makes them feel good about themselves, when I’m able to give them some good news.”As a patient advocate, Strong understands and witnesses firsthand the difficulties patients face due to costs of medication and treatment, coupled with the daily cost of living. She wanted to do something about their ordeal. She decided to extend her helping hand, yet again, by spearheading the collection of donations from colleagues and individuals in her network to help purchase food, snacks, drinks and gas money for patients to assist with treatment visits.Each month, Shannon Strong takes the lead on decorating the lobby tree which has become a beacon of cancer awareness, support and hope for cancer patients and survivors who visit the Cancer Center and Research Institute.“It’s very rewarding to see people and have them thank everyone here for what we’ve done,” said Strong. “I would have patients tell me they’re grateful and appreciative for what I’ve done for them.”At any given time, she may have 50 to 60 patients she cares for, but one patient experience continues to resonate in her mind.“I had a patient who did not have any hair on her head. She found out that I paint, so she wanted me to paint a picture on her head,” said Strong. “Before she passed, I would paint a different picture on her like flowers and dragon flies. That is my favorite memory; her wanting to do that.”One day, Strong had an idea. She wanted to use her artistic abilities to spread more happiness and cheer among patients, so she decided to use her personal funds to purchase ornaments and decorations for a Christmas tree housed in the lobby area of the CCRI. The tree, grand in stature, is one of the first images visitors see as they walk into the lobby. Each month, she takes the lead on decorating the tree which has become a beacon of cancer awareness, support and hope for cancer patients and survivors.PorterStephen Porter, pharmacy supervisor, views Strong’s artistic works as more than crafty creations, but as powerful symbols of light and strength, which overcome the melancholy stigma occasionally associated with health clinics.“Her ability to make patients and coworkers feel welcomed and comfortable is only matched by her amazing artistic ability and creativity, said Porter. “With the risk of a cancer center being viewed as a sad place, Shannon takes the lead on brightening the day with bows, decorations, and ornaments themed to the month’s cancer awareness theme.” A clinic waiting area may also be viewed as a dull and sterile place for patients and caregivers standing by for doctor appointments. Recognizing this void, Strong put her creative juices to work, once again. She crafted a larger-than-life poster board, accompanied with a rainbow of markers, to allow their creativity to flourish.“The end result was a beautiful image of teamwork and support from patients, family, friends, and the staff,” said Porter.Each year, Strong and her colleagues have the chance to offer their support through the See, Test and Treat event. The massive effort connects doctors, nurses, staff members and volunteers who work to bring free mammograms, cervical and oral cancer screenings to uninsured or underinsured women. In March 2023, approximately 36 women received free screenings and results in the same day.BassKatie Bass, social worker, assists cancer patients by connecting them to strong support groups, emotional counseling and other vital services. Understanding the monumental role of patient advocates, she shares how Strong’s passion for serving others extends beyond her normal 8-to-5 job. “She works so hard and even on nights and weekends working at the Central Pharmacy located on the main campus,” said Bass. “She also gives her time with other events such as See Test Treat and Relay for Life.” Ultimately, Strong credits the family-like relationship with her coworkers at the CCRI Pharmacy as an essential facet, which allows her undeniable talents and passion for creativity to truly flourish.“The people I work with are amazing, and I love them,” said Strong. “We help each other out. I wouldn’t go anywhere else.”Read more Front and Center stories online. Do you know a student, staff, volunteer or faculty member at the University of Mississippi Medical Center whose story would make an interesting feature or deserves to be recognized? 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