Ruth's Handprints Were a 'Victory' at Benefis Sletten Cancer Institute

Five sets of handprints in the tunnel below Benefis Sletten Cancer Institute trace Ruth Rozokat’s cancer journey. 

In 2009, Ruth survived breast cancer and celebrated by adding a set of pink handprints to the tunnel’s Handprints of Hope mural, where survivors and their loved ones have left their marks since 2007.

“The handprints for her were her trophy, her victory,” Ruth’s son Bill Rozokat said. “It was a reminder for her and her family of what she went through. Hopefully other people will see that, and it will help them. You can beat cancer.”

In 2013, Ruth added a set of upside-down black handprints near the floor on the day of her last melanoma treatment. Green handprints followed in 2015 as she celebrated surviving liver cancer. She added white handprints in 2017 after losing a quarter of a lung to cancer.

Ruth found strength in the handprints as well as a sense of accomplishment. She never quit. She lived life to the fullest. You’d never know all she went through during her treatment, and she was an inspiration to those who knew her.
“Cancer never changed her,” Bill said. “My mom was a caring individual. She was a very humble person and well liked.” 

Before she was a cancer patient, Ruth was a nurse for nearly 50 years. Then she joined the Benefis volunteer corps, first on West Campus and then in the Emergency Department, where she spent nine years helping patients and families through the stress of ED visits. She took a break during the height of COVID-19 and then started volunteering in 2021 at Sletten Cancer Institute. 

At SCI, she brought a survivor’s perspective and a nurse’s expertise to her service. As a volunteer, she gave Benefis patients 1,223 1/2 hours of her time – a beautiful and generous gift.

“Volunteering was how she paid back everything everyone had done for her here,” Bill said. “She fell in love with this building, with the Institute, with the people here and what they did for her. I remember her tell me there’s none finer.” 

After Ruth died in November at age 85, her son, Bill, added one a last set of handprints in light purple paint for pancreatic cancer. Bill said it was hard to return to the tunnel without her but that she taught her family to do hard things. 

“She explained what the handprints were, and I passed that on to my family,” he said. “You have to stay together. You can’t do it by yourself. You can’t do it with just your doctor. You have to be there for each other, good days and bad days, for support.”

Bill extended his gratitude on behalf of Ruth’s entire family for the care she received at Benefis. He said the family experience was “priceless.” He doesn’t know how they would have survived from 2009 on without the support of SCI staff.

“Once you walk in that door, you’re family,” he said. “I’ve been up here with her when she was doing treatments, and I got treated just as well as the patients.”

SCI will host a survivorship celebration 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, June 3, 2023. Any cancer survivors and their families are invited to attend, and they will be able to add their handprints to the Handprints of Hope mural.