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7's Hero: Doctors surprise cancer patient with a taste of Paris after her bucket list trip was canceled

“I just couldn't get over it, I felt like it was the kind of thing family does,” the Nampa woman said through tears.

NAMPA, Idaho — Joan Ann Piper, a Nampa woman battling cancer, had big plans to go on a family trip to Paris. In fact, it was on her bucket list. Just days before the Piper family was set to fly out of the country, COVID-19 changed everything. 

Piper was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. 

“Back in 2013, when I went for a regular mammogram at the Saint Alphonsus Breast Care Center, they discovered a very tiny tumor in my breast," Piper said. "We found it to be malignant, and it was cancerous. That was removed. There was no other signs of cancer and I was sent on my way to live a long, happy life.”

Piper thought she was one of the lucky ones and that her cancer battle was behind her. But in February 2019, she went to the hospital with the signs and symptoms of a bleeding ulcer. 

“They did a little more exploring and found that it was in fact cancer, metastatic breast cancer that had invaded several parts of my body," Piper said.

Piper has been in treatment ever since. 

“Now I’m on my third line of treatment, and I've gotten to know the incredible staff and I want to say, family, at the Saint Alphonsus Cancer Care Center," Piper said. “They’ve shared the ups and downs with me, they’ve told me it's okay to cry here and I’ve just been spending hours and hours each week with them.”

Dr. Bobby Chawla is Piper’s oncologist at Saint Alphonsus. 

“She's just a wonderful person, we connected from day one,” Chawla said. “She had talked to me about her goals [and] part of that was traveling and completing her bucket list, going to Paris with her family.”

Because of the rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the trip had to be canceled at the last minute. Piper was devastated.

“We were literally supposed to leave the day after they shut down all the airlines leaving the country,” Piper said. “We put a lot of emotional investment into this trip, we were going to go to Lourdes, France, spend a couple of days in Paris, and then go to my favorite, Disneyland.”

When Dr. Chawla found out that Piper had to cancel the trip, he knew he had to do something.

“This was devastating for her," Chawla said. "This was something that was really important to her. So we started exploring options." 

Dr. Chawla and his team at Saint Alphonsus Cancer Care Center created something truly incredible for Piper by bringing Paris to her.

“We decided to make an event for her at the cancer center, which included the Boise Symphony to play music for her, we ordered pastries, a bunch of different french pastries," Chawla said. "Everybody got Mickey Mouse ears to wear. We tried to make it as special for her as possible, to try to bring a little bit of Paris to her. “

Piper was blown away and overcome with emotion. 

“I came in for my chemotherapy appointment, and there was this tremendous outpouring of love and a surprise,” Piper said. “I can't even put into words how emotional it was to come around the corner and see that the nurses and doctors had pooled their creativity to include a little corner of Paris for me. Including pictures of Disneyland, Paris. There was also french pastries to share with everyone there.”

Piper said she felt truly loved by her medical team. 

“I just couldn't get over it, I felt like it was the kind of thing family does,” Piper said through tears.

Chawla said it was incredible to see Piper's reaction. He said he has always prided himself on treating his patients like family. That guides every decision he makes and all the advice he gives. 

“What patients don't realize is that they play a big role in our lives too,” Chawla said. “When we saw her reaction, there was as a very emotional response from me and my team. Even though the world has changed so fast, we're still dealing with cancer patients - because cancer doesn't take a break during a pandemic. We were able to give her something to reconnect, so that she could get through this crisis, together with us. “

Piper says wants to honor Dr. Chawla and his staff. 

“From the bottom of my heart, I love them, I cherish them. This journey can be so emotional, it can tear you up inside,” Piper said. “They truly are the heroes."

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