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A Loving Gift and a Legacy of Hope

Apr 18, 2022

Loving family A test of faith. A gift of hope. The Loving family and the Philip and Noëlle C. Loving “But Tomorrow” Foundation family lounge at the VCU Massey Cancer Cancer in the Adult Outpatient Pavilion in March 2022. The Lovings family,with support from family, friends, strangers and everyone who donated to The Noëlle C. Loving “But Tomorrow” Foundation, donated $200,000 to name a new family lounge in honor and memory of Noëlle and Philip Loving, siblings who died from brain cancer within three years of each other.

It was a test of his faith, Larry Loving, Sr., said. 

Loving and his wife, Christiane, lost two of their four children – both to brain cancer – within three years of each other.

First, Noëlle, the Loving’s compassionate second-born, died of an inoperable brain tumor in 2017, one year after diagnosis.  Three years later, their youngest Philip (“Phil”), lost a 10-year battle with brain cancer, just two months after the birth of their second child.

The unbearable loss made Loving question his faith. But he never lost hope. He spoke often about this question of faith with Monsignor William Carr at St. Bridget Catholic Church, where the Lovings attend church. “Monsignor Carr said ‘This question has been asked 20,000 times: Why? Why did He take my daughter, my son?,’ Loving recalls. “He couldn’t give me the answer, but he said, ‘You will know one day. One day you will know and you will be happy again.’” Noëlle sang in the choir at St. Bridget, and Monsignor Carr read both Noëlle’s and Phil’s last rights.

Following Noëlle’s and Phil’s deaths, the Loving family, which also includes Noëlle and Phil’s surviving siblings, Larry Loving, Jr. and Katie Loving Gilbert, and their spouses, Mary Kathleen and Aaron, Phil’s wife Kate, beloved nieces and nephews, and a cadre of aunts, uncles and cousins, were determined to give meaning to their loss.

A gift of hope

In November 2020, the Loving family and the Noëlle C. Loving But Tomorrow Foundation committed a $200,000 leadership gift to name a family lounge at the new VCU Massey Cancer Center in the Adult Outpatient Pavilion. The state-of-the-art facility, which opened in December 2021, offers Massey patients a central, light- and hope-filled space for all downtown outpatient oncology and hematology services at Massey. 

The gift is a way for the Lovings to honor and remember Noëlle and Phil – and to help bring hope and comfort to other families fighting cancer at Massey. It’s also a community effort. “This would not be possible without help from the many wonderful people who have supported our work, to improve quality of life for people who need it more than you will ever know, by donating to the But Tomorrow Foundation and to Massey,” Chris Loving said.

Phil, Darius and Kate Loving Phil, Darius and Kate Loving

Tested but never broken

Phil Loving was just 22 years old in 2010 when he was diagnosed with an oligodendroglioma (brain tumor).

For 10 years, he defied the odds, surviving and thriving with brain cancer. During this time, Phil attended graduate school and studied abroad in Tel Aviv, where he met his wife, Kate Hamilton, became a dad to two children, Darius and Violet, and built a life in Washington, D.C., working as a financial analyst with the Department of Defense.

Despite setbacks and challenges, Phil always lived life to the fullest, his family said. “He never felt sorry for himself or dwelled on his illness,” Phil’s older sister, Katie Loving Gilbert, said.

“Phil had an MRI every three months for ten years and multiple surgeries,” Hamilton said. “His multiple surgeries left his thick, bushy hair looking like a chia pet,” she said. That made Phil laugh. Cancer tested, but never broke, his spirit.

Phil passed away in May 2020, following a complication called hydrocephalus, an accumulation of fluid inside the brain and a common side effect associated with brain tumors and multiple surgeries. It was unexpected. The couple had just welcomed their second child and Phil’s scans had been clear.  “We had had a really nice Christmas celebrating the first time in a long time that we were free of cancer,” Kate said. In early January, Phil’s health started declining rapidly. “Oftentimes it isn’t the cancer that kills someone; it’s something else. This was Phil’s ‘something else.’”

Squeezing the juice out of this lemon… and moving on. That was how both Phil and Noëlle lived. – Kate Hamilton Loving

Throughout Phil’s journey, the Loving family – and especially Noëlle, who moved back home from Washington, D.C., to advocate for her little brother – rallied around him.

“Noëlle had a big heart and always saw kindness in others,” her dad said. “She would pick up any piece of trash that was laying on the ground. If she had $12, she would give $10 of it away. She was just that kind of a person, just a kind person.

“Noëlle also never faltered in the face of adversity, and she never took no for an answer, especially when it came to Phil. She could charm her way into anything. If someone said ‘no’ to Noëlle, she would just say, ‘Well, I’ll just try again tomorrow.’” 

Noëlle was in nursing school at Bon Secours Memorial College of Nursing, while working in the Thomas Palliative Care Unit at VCU Massey Cancer Center, in 2016 when she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. She was one semester away from graduating from nursing school and would be awarded her nursing degree posthumously.

Noëlle Loving during nursing school, while working in the palliative care unit at Massey. Noëlle Loving during nursing school, while working in the palliative care unit at Massey.

“Noëlle wanted to stay in palliative care at Massey forever. She said it was a place where she belonged, where she could really make a difference.”

In the palliative care unit, Noëlle was known for the “spa treatments” she gave her patients, Gilbert shared. “She would put on music, dim the lights and rub her patients’ feet like they were at a spa. She just wanted them to feel good, to enjoy some quality of life.”

Noëlle lived for one year following her own diagnosis, with half of that time bedridden and unable to eat, drink, speak or move. She would spend her final days as a patient in the palliative care unit at Massey where she had so loved working.

“When she arrived,” Gilbert remembers, “a former colleague and friend from the palliative care team said, ‘Ah, it’s Noëlle. I know just what to do for Noëlle: The Noëlle Spa Treatment.’ And she did.”

Phil and Noëlle shared a zest for living and faced life – and illness – with a unique grace and humor.  Both were proud Virginia Tech Hokies and shared a love for dancing and attending music and comedy shows and were always quick with a joke to put others at ease. 

“Phil and Noëlle could light up a room,” Larry Loving, Jr., the oldest of the Loving siblings, said. “There were times where myself and others were just sitting around not talking about anything and then Phil or Noëlle would walk in and the whole room was laughing and smiling in seconds. They made every activity more fun and exciting and I really, really miss that.”

“Squeezing the juice out of this lemon… and moving on. That was how both Phil and Noëlle lived,” Hamilton said.  “I used to say to Phil, what if this happens? Or that?’ And, he’d say, ‘Well, what if it does? We don’t know what’s going to happen, we just do the best we can with today.’”

One of Phil’s favorite quotes is from SportsCenter anchor Stuart Scott during his 2014 acceptance speech for the Jimmy V Perseverance award:  "When you die, it does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live."

Loving family on Mothers day The Loving family on Mother’s Day 2016, before Noëlle’s diagnosis. Including (from left to right): Noëlle Loving , Mary Kathleen and Larry Loving, Jr., Kate and Phil Loving, Chris and Larry Loving, Sr., and Aaron and Katie Loving Gilbert, with their children.

The “But Tomorrow” Foundation

The Lovings founded the Noëlle C. Loving “But Tomorrow” Foundation as a way to continue Noëlle’s, and later Phil’s, legacy by helping other families in similar circumstances. It was also an answer, at least in part, to Larry Loving, Sr.’s question about faith.

The “But Tomorrow” Foundation was an answer, at least in part, to Larry Loving’s question about faith. And a way for the family to give Noëlle’s and Phil’s loss meaning by helping others.

“But Tomorrow” was an ode to Noëlle’s unwavering, optimistic outlook on life – and illness. “As a child, whenever Noëlle would want something, and we would say ‘no,’ she would just look at us and smile, and say ‘But tomorrow?’ and walk away,” Loving shared. “She would always say that: ‘But tomorrow.’ And we would laugh and say, ‘Yes, hon, maybe, tomorrow.’”

The foundation, which expanded to include Phil’s name after his passing, focuses on advancing quality of life for terminal patients.

Loving family foundation lounge

The Philip Loving and Noëlle C. Loving ‘But Tomorrow’ Foundation Family Lounge

The sign on the wall of the new Massey Cancer Center family lounge will read: “The Philip Loving and Noëlle C. Loving “But Tomorrow” Foundation Family Lounge.” 

The Loving family knew they wanted Noëlle’s and Phil’s names on something, Gilbert said.

“We loved the idea of the family lounge as a place where families and friends can come together to share a laugh or a quiet moment - a place where people can find hope and live even during treatment. That makes this really special.”

The lounge, which is located on the medical and oncology infusion floor, provides a comfortable, quiet space for patients and their families to rest and recharge, grab a snack or plug in to work or watch a movie between treatments. The Lovings hope it will be a place for conversation
and other “normal” things despite the aberrations of cancer.  The room has expansive views across the region and is set up with comfortable seating, Wi-Fi and drinks and snacks.  “We did say that we’ve got to make sure the mini-fridge always stays stocked,” Gilbert quipped. “Because that’s our name on it.”

The light- and hope-filled space also inspired the Lovings. “The light in this new building is going to show people that they can get through this,” Loving said. “It is going to be a pathway of hope. For right or wrong, the place you receive treatment is important. With the new building, the place will finally reflect the quality of the research and care at Massey, and that’s pretty exciting to be a part of.”

Kate Hamilton Loving and Phil and Kate’s children Kate Hamilton Loving and Phil and Kate’s children, Darius and Violet, in the Loving Family But Tomorrow Foundation Family Lounge in April 2022.

Seeing Phil and Noëlle’s names on that wall is for the kids too, especially for Kate and Phil’s children, Gilbert said. Their son, Darius, was born three days after Noëlle’s passing, and their daughter, Violet, was just two months old when her dad died. 
“When I see a name on a wall, I know those families have experienced what we did,” Loving added. “It reminds me that we are not alone. When Darius and Violet see their dad’s name on the wall, we hope they will think, ‘My gosh, that's my dad. He was, and still is, an important person. Look at what he helped make possible.’”

VCU Health Adult Outpatient Pavilion: Elevating cancer care at Massey

VCU Massey Cancer Center at the Adult Outpatient Pavilion opened to patients in December 2021 and is a central location for all of Massey’s outpatient cancer and hematology services in downtown Richmond, featuring vibrant art on the wall, floor-to-ceiling windows that allow light to pour in from all sides and thoughtful amenities like a wig salon, patient resource education center, and on-site counseling services. It also offers state-of-the-art treatment technologies and treatments to advance the cancer fight here in central Virginia and beyond...

“The new outpatient pavilion provides an intersection of science, health care delivery and community.” – Robert A. Winn, M.D.
Dr. Winn cutting ceremony Robert A. Winn, M.D., Massey director and Lipman chair in oncology (center) and Rudene Haynes, VCU Massey Advisory Board member and cancer survivor (second from right) with other VCU Health and Massey leaders at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of the new VCU Health Adult Outpatient Pavilion in December 2021.

“The new Massey pavilion provides an intersection of science, health care delivery and community,” said Robert A. Winn, director and Lipman Chair in Oncology at Massey. “Offering comfort is essential when we consider the entire health and wellness equation.

“The Loving family’s generosity and vision for this space is enabling us to deliver on a commitment to treat the entire patient — with medicine and with deliberate touches to create a warm, welcoming experience.  We join the Loving family in remembering and honoring Noëlle and Phil’s legacy. At Massey, we imagine a future without cancer. The notion of ‘But Tomorrow’ drives everything we do.”

Loving family touring the building The Loving family touring the new building and the future Loving Family Lounge, with its floor to ceiling windows and expansive views, during its construction in 2021 and in the finished space in April 2022.

The facility’s new state-of-the-art technologies include a first-in-the-region MRI radiation technology using advanced imaging to guide radiation and a new 3D mammogram machine to help minimize wait times and are a critical part of the new center and the patient experience. Massey even patient-tested infusion chairs to ensure they offer the most comfort and support, and streamlined scheduling and check-in procedures and 1,000 new parking spaces make getting to and parking at Massey easier than ever before.

Loving family article - image of AOP

Palliative care and neuro-oncology at Massey

The Loving family has also provided financial support for the neuro-oncology program at Massey and the Thomas Palliative Care Unit in honor of Noëlle, as well as The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University, where Phil was seen, and to set up a scholarship at Bon Secours Memorial College of Nursing in Noëlle’s name.

The neuro-oncology program at Massey is on the cutting edge of brain cancer research and treatment. The only cancer center in the Richmond area with a neurologist subspecialized in the treatment of neurological cancers, Massey is among only one percent of cancer centers nationwide with a board-certified neuro-oncologist on staff.

Massey’s award-winning palliative care program, which includes The Thomas Palliative Care Unit where Noëlle worked, focuses on quality of life for patients by providing a comfortable, home-like environment and pain and symptom management, and outpatient support through the supportive care clinic, one of Massey’s newest innovations.

A lasting legacy of hope

The Loving’s gift to Massey is a gift to their family too, they said. It is a way for Noëlle’s and Philips’s legacy to live on. And it is helping to restore his faith.

Today, there is still no cure for cancer. One-in-three women and one-in-two men can expect to receive a cancer diagnosis during their lifetimes.

But, as Noëlle would say, “Maybe, tomorrow.”

At Massey, our vision for a future without cancer drives everything we do. And with the innovative research and care that is happening every day, we are doing more than imagining it. We are running toward it – together.

A future without cancer starts with you:

Learn how you can help make cancer disappear, visit: masseycancercenter.org/how-you-can-help

Learn more about Massey’s new state-of-the-art downtown outpatient facility: masseycancercenter.org/aop

Donate to Massey at www.masseycancercenter.org/how-you-can-help
Contact the Development office at teammassey@vcu.edu

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AOP Matching Grant Image

Elevating Cancer Care:

Double the impact. Double the recognition.

Thanks to generous challenge grants by The Mary Morton Parsons Foundation and The Cabell Foundation , donations  to Massey Cancer Center in the Adult Outpatient Pavilion made after will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $1.25 million, providing donors with the opportunity to double their impact and to double their recognition.

For more information, please contact: Patti Jackson, jacksonp2@vcu.edu or visit www.masseycancercenter.aop.