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Cranes Bring Hope and Healing to Montana Cancer Center

In 2009, Tomi and Forrest Madden journeyed from their Montana home to Nebraska for the great Sandhill Crane migration in the Platte River Valley. Each year, the valley swells with hundreds of thousands of cranes. The Maddens watched countless beating wings fill the sky and heard a chorus of calls echo throughout the valley where the cranes find nourishment and protection en route to northern nesting grounds.

It was spring, and Forrest Madden was battling prostate cancer.

“Forrest loved the birds,” said Tomi. “He had three weeks off of chemo treatments, so that’s where we went.” Twenty boxes of brightly-colored origami paper went with them.

During their Nebraska visit, Tomi folded and shaped 1,000 origami cranes, creating a brilliant mobile of reds, greens, blues and yellows. Cranes are a significant symbol in Japanese culture, Tomi’s heritage. Traditionally, they represent hope, strength and bring luck that carries the promise of longevity, fidelity, prosperity or happiness. An ancient Japanese legend pledges that anyone who folds 1,000 origami cranes will be granted a wish, or will heal from injury or illness.

“Cranes are important to me, and they were important to Forrest.”

Teresa Snyder and Tomi Madden fold origami cranes at Montana Cancer Center.Tomi hung her mobile in Montana Cancer Center (MCC) at Missoula’s St. Patrick Hospital where Forrest received treatment. Forrest’s nurse at MCC was Teresa Snyder.

“He was such a personality,” said Teresa, who has been a nurse at MCC for nearly 13 years. It didn’t take long before Teresa was influenced by Forrest’s infectious enthusiasm for birds. She often found herself reporting her sightings. “I would mention that I saw a heron on the Higgins Street Bridge, and Forrest would rush down after treatment to try and spot it.”

Above: Montana Cancer Center nurse Teresa Snyder and
Tomi Madden fold paper cranes together.

Inspired by Forrest and Tomi, Teresa taught herself to fold origami cranes. “There’s something about folding paper,” said Teresa. “There’s a rhythm to it. Even the sound of it is almost therapeutic.” She makes cranes for her patients. The tiny paper token with a big back-story is usually presented after treatment or, as Teresa puts it, “just because.”

“I love the people I get the opportunity to care for,” said Teresa. “That’s all of it for me.”

Tomi's cranes.Forrest passed away in August, 2011. Tomi volunteers at the hospital that cared for her husband. She and Teresa don’t see each other as often as they used to, but when they do, they receive one another as old friends. Tomi’s 1,000 cranes are still displayed just inside the doorway of the MCC’s Treatment Center where they greet dozens of patients each day.

“People walk in and are immediately taken in by the color,” said Teresa. “They can’t help but touch it.” The cranes invite conversation and consistently spark the story of Nebraska’s wildlife-rich river valley, Japanese legend and healing.

“This isn’t a sad place,” said Teresa. “It’s a place that has a lot of color and laughter – and a lot of hope.”

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