EAST GULL LAKE - Pat Hassett thought she was going out for a quiet dinner with her husband, Bob, Saturday night.
Instead, a shocked Hassett was greeted at Ernie's On Gull Lake by 200 of her friends and family members, who threw her a surprise 60th birthday party.
But the true surprise came later. Hassett was speechless when her son, Dan, announced that in celebration of her 60th birthday, which is actually Thursday, they have established the Pat Hassett Fund through the St. Joseph's Foundation in her honor. Instead of purchasing birthday gifts, guests were asked to contribute to the fund which will be used for cancer patient support in the community. More than $3,000 had been raised so far by Saturday night. This is the first time the St. Joseph's Foundation has ever had a dedicated fund in honor of a person who may set the criteria for and administer the funds herself.
"It was awesome," said her son, Dan, a physical therapist from Dundas, of surprising his mom. "She was stunned. My mom has touched so many different people. It just seemed like the right time to do this."
Pat Hassett (center) shared a laugh with her friends, Sara Dunlap (left) and Kathy Buxton Saturday at her surprise 60th birthday party at Ernie's On Gull Lake. Hassett's family and friends not only surprised her with a party of 200 friends but established a new St. Joseph's Foundation grant in her honor for cancer patients that Hassett may administer. Hassett is a breast cancer survivor and facilitates the local breast cancer support group. Brainerd Dispatch/Jodie Tweed » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"I just can't even believe it. It's unbelievable," Hassett said of the new fund. "I could never have gotten a better present than this."
Hassett is a three-time breast cancer survivor and longtime advocate for cancer patients, even before she became one herself. She is a longtime registered nurse at St. Joseph's Medical Center and while working the night shifts, she would have the opportunity to talk to her patients struggling with their cancer diagnosis. A year before her own diagnosis of breast cancer in 1986, she became the coordinator for I Can Cope, a support system for people diagnosed with cancer and their families in the Brainerd lakes area. She also is a facilitator for other cancer support groups, like the breast cancer support group that meets at the hospital, and is a frequent volunteer at hospital health fairs and as a speaker throughout the region on breast health care. She is the former coordinator and a current volunteer for the Reach for Recovery program.
Hassett was one of the advocates who introduced the Relay for Life annual fundraising event to Brainerd many years ago and has participated every year since in many ways.
Several tables at Saturday's party were filled with cancer survivors who have been touched by Hassett, including her friend, Arvilla Felten, a breast cancer survivor.
"Pat's the one who taught me we're not cancer victims, we're survivors," said Felten.
Door prizes and raffles also were at Hassett's surprise party to raise additional funds for the Pat Hassett Fund. Just last week Hassett was telling her friends that she needed to write a grant to help pay for the lunches for the guest speakers at her breast cancer support group meetings. Now the Pat Hassett Fund may be used to help pay for things like this.
Sara Dunlap, executive director of the St. Joseph's Foundation, and Kathy Buxton, also a breast cancer survivor and longtime advocate for cancer patient support, are both friends of Hassett's and helped plan Saturday's event, along with Hassett's family.
"She's been an inspiration to me, to know her and see how she cares about others, not just as a nurse but as a friend," Dunlap said of Hassett. "There's nobody more deserving than she is."
Luminaries decorated each table at Saturday's party, a reminder of Hassett's work with cancer patient support and of her own battle against breast cancer.
"It's a celebration," said Dan Hassett. "She's made it and continues to thrive. She's been a great role model for me, for sure."
Dan Hassett is collecting memories from people whose lives have been touched by his mother for a memory book being created for her 60th birthday. If you have a memory about Pat Hassett you'd like to share, or would like to contribute to the Pat Hassett Fund through St. Joseph's Foundation, checks and letters may be mailed to Dan Hassett, 302 Archibald Lane, Dundas, MN 55019.
The tax-deductible donations for the Pat Hassett Fund may also be sent in care of St. Joseph's Foundation, 523 Third St. N., Brainerd, MN 56401. Questions may be directed to Sara Dunlap at 828-7641.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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