Dynamic Duo Rocks Cancer Patients

Krista Bonds found the first rock in the stairwell at the NorthBay Cancer Center, on her way to work. It had a bright daisy painted on the front, and on the back it read: “Let’s Rock America on Facebook.”

After a quick online visit, Krista, a medical assistant and an admittedly crafty person, had a new hobby — painting rocks. She became so industrious, she decided to take some to work, to share with her Cancer Center patients.

After weeks of painting and posting, another rock enthusiast messaged her, asking for details about supplies and techniques. The two became Facebook friends, and it was only later that Krista realized that Kerry Wilmerding was also a NorthBay Healthcare employee, a patient services representative at the Green Valley Center for Primary Care.

It turned out that Kerry’s mother, Glenda Barton, had been a patient of the Cancer Center in 2015.

When Kerry learned that Krista was making rocks for Cancer Center patients, Kerry decided she, too, would donate rocks for patients in honor of her mum, who died on May 26, 2015, at 80 after a short illness.A photograph of Kerry Wilmerding’s Mum, Glenda Barton, rests in the rock basket at the NorthBay Cancer Center.

Kerry had spent some time at the Cancer Center — when it was still in Fairfield — while her mother received infusion treatments.

“It was a bit of a blur,” said Kerry, “but I remember everybody there was very kind. It was an overwhelming time in her life, but my sister Samantha and I appreciate the support Mum received from the Cancer Center. It really helped her through the process.”

Kerry loves being creative, and has experimented with many modes of art, including sculpture and murals. Rock painting has turned out to be very healing for her.

“It’s helped me through the grieving process,” said Kerry. “It’s a way for me to show support for people going through something similar to what me and my family went through.”

Now a basket filled with colorfully-painted rocks sits on the corner of the counter in the infusion center, with a sign inviting cancer patients to take one for inspiration.

Indeed, the rocks carry messages, such as “Hope,” “Believe,” and “Love.” Others have colorful images of hearts, butterflies, flowers and spectacular designs.

Rocks created by Kerri Schillinger were left in the Cancer Center parking lot.Thanks to some unsolicited promotion from Dr. Brian Vikstrom, some patients ask Krista directly to design rocks for them, sometimes requesting a word or an image.

“I’m happy to do it,” said Krista, who spends anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours per rock.

Another coincidence? Cancer Center Social Worker Magi Philpot found the Facebook page on rock painting and decided to give it a try, not realizing she had NorthBay colleagues already involved. Now she’s also creating rocks for the basket, as are other members of the Facebook page who read about Krista’s idea and decided to join in.

That’s just the kind of thing Kerri Schillinger of Vacaville was hoping to inspire when she created the Facebook page in March.

It was meant to be a page for people in towns that don’t have a local rock club. It has quickly grown to more than 2,000 members and stretches across the country.

On the page she encourages folks to leave painted rocks for someone else to find, with a message inviting them to post on the Let’s Rock America Facebook page.

She includes a few rules, such as, “Don’t leave rocks in national parks or cemeteries,” because it could result in a citation. And, she stipulates, “This page and this movement is intended to unite our great country. With that in mind, please keep the rocks and this page politics-free and drama-free.”

So far, it’s worked.

Kerri, who never picked up a paintbrush until she started this project, has not only found her inner artist, she now has about 80 rocks in circulation, including one that she tracked from downtown Vacaville all the way to the East Coast. She occasionally receives “thank you” posts on the page and is always happy to hear how one of her rocks has made someone’s day.

She’s been invited to do workshops in local classrooms, and even has suggestions for those who consider themselves not artsy: Use stickers, stencils or simply paint a message.

Bottom line? The mission is “Sharing Joy — One Rock at a Time.”

Little did she know her page would also inspire new friendships among local artists.

Kerry and Krista had never met until they came together for a photo for NorthBay's employee newsletter. In the Cancer Center, they shared memories of Kerry’s mother, hugs and photos of their rocks, and posed with the basket they helped fill.

“We had no idea when we first started chatting online that we had so much in common,” said Krista. “Now we’re partnering in this project to help our patients know that they’re not alone, that someone cares.”

“It’s therapeutic,” said Kerry, “for them and for us.”