Published on August 31, 2022

Forrest General Hospital Cancer Center Volunteer Works Through Her Own Diagnosis

HATTIESBURG, Miss. – (August 31, 2022) Jeanne Herring may best be known as a volunteer who tickles the ivories of the piano at the Forrest General Cancer Center each Friday morning. But these days, Herring, 93, has another reason for being at the center – her own cancer diagnosis. Cancer she previously had treated has returned, and now is reason for her to experience both sides of the journey.

Hospital employees appreciate this hard-working woman who has devoted the last 43 years of her life to volunteering at the hospital. A doctor’s wife, Herring began giving of her time to Forrest General Volunteer Services in 1979. It was during a Medical Auxiliary meeting that year when a representative visited the meeting to suggest doctors’ wives volunteer their time with the hospital. So, Herring and a friend did exactly that, pushing a juice cart and handing out mail in the beginning. She’s also served as the CCU Waiting Room hostess, and helped process mail during a time when more than 220,000 pieces of mail entered and exited the hospital facility, and 6,000 cards and letters were delivered to patients. The only time she hasn’t been on the campus is when volunteers were forced to take a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic due to safety precautions.

Herring began taking piano lessons in the second grade and continued through high school. “My poor daddy had to sit through a lot of recitals,” she laughed. She also sang in the choir at Westminster Presbyterian Church for a number of years and said she would still be singing, but the cancer medicine she takes makes her hoarse.

This is the third time for the cancer, which first appeared in her mouth, and required surgery. During the second bout, which was in her left jaw, there was more surgery with radiation. Now, the cancer is back behind her left ear and is inoperable. She is currently taking a chemo medication. Her granddaughter, Carrie Jussely, who works as a registrant in the Emergency Room, said a recent scan of the area shows the problem area has gone down in size a good bit. “We’re encouraged,” she said. “I’m especially relieved to hear this because the medication has not been without some side effects. At least we know it’s worth it, and the medication is helping her fight this.”

Some years ago, Herring was featured in a Forrest General newspaper ad congratulating volunteers on their years of service. She was featured alongside Louise Cubley and John deVink. It was a year when volunteer efforts totaled more than 3,095 hours for South Mississippi’s patients and families.

Herring’s Friday morning concerts include a little bit of everything. She plays a lot of songs from memory and some by ear and does take requests. “One lady requested ‘Victory in Jesus,’” she remembers. “I told her it wasn’t in my hymn book, but I thought I could play it. And I always play ‘Amazing Grace.’”

Herring is unsure how long she’s been playing at the Cancer Center, but she does know it was before the center was renovated and the waiting room was on the south side of the building. She also remembers two pianos and a particular patient, who was also a college professor, who could play in any key, and wanted them to play duets. “I told him I only played in the key of F, which is what Irving Berlin wrote in. If it was good enough for Irving, it was good enough for me.” Herring said her fingers are numb, but she still manages to play. “I don’t know how, but I can,” she said.

“This is something I look forward to,” said Herring, who has developed friendships with many of the patients and their families. “One lady, who was at the center with her husband, wanted us to sing duets together. When her husband’s treatment was over, she didn’t want to stop coming in.”

Herring has been a part of Vicky Buxton, director of Volunteer & Guest Services, entire Forrest General career. “I can get emotional thinking of my journey with her,” said Buxton. “When I first met Jeanne, she was one of the original volunteers who still wore the traditional pink volunteer uniform. She is one of the most giving and dedicated people I know. The compassion she shows for those we serve is an inspiration. She has always treated everyone with respect and kindness, no matter the situation. She knows how stressful it can be for our patients who find themselves in need of our services, and she manages to always find the right words to comfort them.”

Herring is the longest serving volunteer in the history of the organization. As the hospital changed processes, Herring changed with them, never once asking to step away. “She simply wanted to give back and to serve,” Buxton said. “She has a servant’s heart, and it’s important she knows, her good work hasn’t gone unnoticed. We are extremely proud to call Jeanne one of our own.”

Herring is thankful to be as active as she is, still driving herself wherever she needs to go. “Affectionately known as “Mommo,”  she is “one of the most active and independent 93 year olds I’ve ever come across,” said Jussely, “and I meet a LOT of elderly people working here in the ER.”

“My grandfather passed away in 1998, so she’s been doing things on her own for a long time,” said Jussely. “She has a better memory than any of our family members.”

“I’ll be 94 in November. I have always felt I wanted to do my part and help in any little way I can, if there was something I could do sitting down.” Herring is very active in her church where she serves as historian. She also volunteers with the Hattiesburg Historical Society and is a member of the DAR and a couple of “coffee groups

Herring’s husband, Emmett Herring, MD, was an eye, ear, nose, and throat physician with Green-Herring Eye Center. After 20 years in the business, he concentrated on eyes. He was also the first physician to perform an intraocular transplant at the hospital. One of her sons is now a retina specialist in Jackson, who comes to Hattiesburg Clinic once a month to see patients.

The Herrings have six children (1 girl and 5 boys), 14 grandchildren and 9 great-great grandchildren, so there are a lot of people looking out for Jeanne Herring.

Herring said pretty much everything has changed with the hospital during the 43 years she’s been volunteering. She remembers the hospital, which celebrated its 70th anniversary in July of this year, being built and the time at which it faced west toward what is now 28th Avenue.

While she’s had different jobs during these four decades, her current job of playing the piano in the Cancer Center lobby has been one of her favorites; another was working in the hospital’s well-baby nursery.

“I meet some of the nicest people and really enjoy the association. The people who work there are nice, also,” Herring said.

For more information about being a volunteer, visit www.forrestgeneral.com/volunteers.


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