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MACKINAW — Julie Conn and Julie Troup delivered more than a poinsettia to Diane Hahn and children Eric Hahn and Carly Mitzelfelt on Friday afternoon at Mackinaw Valley Vineyard.

They delivered a message that a friend is remembered during the Christmas season.

The friend is Paul Hahn, who died of colorectal cancer on Nov. 18 at age 62 at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Peoria.

The message was delivered to his wife and two of their six children by Conn and Troup — Saint Francis oncology nurses who helped to care for Hahn during his long hospitalizations at Saint Francis.

"When you're at Saint Francis, you get to know the staff," Diane Hahn said after accepting the poinsettia. "It's nice to know that (relationship) continues after your family member is gone."

The Hahn family is not alone.

Sixty-seven poinsettias are being delivered by five Saint Francis oncology nurses and patient care technicians during the next week. The 67 flowering plants are going to family members of Saint Francis oncology patients who died this year.

The five oncology unit employees plan to personally deliver each plant to a family member at their home. While most are in the Peoria area, deliveries are being made as far away as Bloomington-Normal, Galesburg, Monmouth, East Moline, Oglesby, Macomb and Kewanee.

The oncology nurses and techs are coordinating with families, figuring out directions and making deliveries on their own time and using their own vehicles. They are presenting poinsettias that have been purchased with money from bake sales and donations.

The poinsettia program started 20 years ago with two nurses making six or seven deliveries.

"It started because several patients were lost who the nurses had gotten quite close to," Conn said. "They wanted the families to know they were thinking about them during the holiday season. What better way than with the Christmas flower, the poinsettia?

"It continued on and became a tradition," Conn said.

"We develop close relationships with many of our (cancer) patients and their families because some of them are with us for weeks at a time," Conn explained. "When we lose a patient, it's like losing one of our own."

"Our patients have impacted my life more than they will ever know," Conn continued. "The patients show us every single day what it takes to fight to live. Even though they are gone, the living plant is a symbol that they are alive inside of all of us."

Conn and Troup were glad that this year's poinsettia deliveries began at Mackinaw Valley Vineyard, which was owned by Paul Hahn.

"It makes me smile just to think of Paul," Conn said. "I loved taking care of him. He had a tenacious spirit. He stayed positive in every situation."

Hahn was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer in 2012 after having a colonoscopy at age 58.

"He was screened eight years too late," Diane Hahn said.

Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery followed. But the cancer spread and Hahn was on chemotherapy and in and out of Saint Francis during his final two years of life, Diane Hahn said.

He became an advocate for colorectal cancer screening and urged anyone who would listen to get a colonoscopy beginning at age 50, Diane Hahn recalled.

The timing of Friday's delivery — shortly before Christmas — was good, Diane Hahn said.

"Paul would have liked this," she said. "If people would accept the message of Christmas, it would be a better world."

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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Health Reporter

Health reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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