NORTH BRUNSWICK – Sandra L. Davis had no idea what Oct. 23 had in store for her.
The Lawrenceville resident was driving along Route 27, on her way to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) in New Brunswick, when she stopped off at Wawa on Cozzens Lane in North Brunswick.
Sitting in a car with her friends, she was waiting to see her ill husband – they were married for 20 years, were divorced for six, but decided to renew their vows in the hospital.
Turning to the right in the parking lot, she and her friend Marie Nock, from Burlington County, spotted two police vehicles painted in a vibrant pink color. Upon finding out the cars were bringing attention to cancer awareness, the two women – Davis, a recent breast cancer survivor, and Nock, a two-time thyroid cancer survivor – decided they needed to take a closer look.
Davis was going for knee surgery when she found a lump in her breast. She had the lump removed at RWJUH, then went to Penn Medicine for her oncology treatment. She said she was triple negative aggressive – mistakenly assuming the negative was a good sign.
She had surgery on Aug. 1, 2017. She suffered from neuropathy, had “rattlesnake” skin, lost her toenails and lost all her hair. She lost her job as well.
However, she is starting to feel better and has regrown her hair.
“It’s overwhelming. Sometimes I look at my body and cry tears of joy,” she said.
After speaking with the dozens of North Brunswick and Franklin Township police officers who were displaying their respective vehicles, she said it was fate for her to stop at that particular Wawa on that particular day.
“Seeing this makes your heart happy,” she said.
Mike Slovinsky of Southside Customs & Collision in North Brunswick wanted to paint his own truck with “something that would catch the eye” in honor of his mother, Joan Foerster Slovinsky, who passed away on Oct. 30, 1987, from breast cancer.
His mother had actually passed out at his wedding, and found a lump in her breast. She went through “horrible chemo” which was “very degrading,” Slovinsky said, because she lost her hair. Slovinsky was 22; his mother was only 46.
“I am her only son. It was really hard for me. I drove her crazy growing up. I would’ve loved to have had only 10 more years to do more stuff and do more things as a grown son would do,” he said.
Slovinsky said he looked at about 300 cars, fire trucks and ambulances for design ideas. Through a combined effort of Slovinsky’s staff, paint donated by PPG, new lenses for the lights donated by East Coast Auto in North Brunswick, and lettering from Cranbury Custom Lettering in Hamilton, the body work included removing all signs of the initial patrol car, especially anything in black; custom painting; changing the lights; adding reflective lettering; and detailing the entire undercarriage.
The words “Find Treat Cure” and “Detect & Cure” now adorn the vehicle, in addition to a tribute to Slovinsky’s mother.
Plus, although the car numbers in North Brunswick usually are in the 500s, this particular vehicle is Car No. 305 – commemorating the birthday of the mother of Detective Michael Braun, since he assisted with the creation of the car. Marianne Braun was 48 when she passed away from breast cancer; her birthday is March 5.
Slovinsky said he would sometimes stay at his shop until 10 p.m., sitting on a milk crate, with his wife nearby, working on the car. His employees would help as well – not once complaining, he said. He has no idea how many man hours or how much money went into the car – nor does he care.
“This car will never, ever be work for me,” Slovinsky said, noting he is already thinking about future additions, such as painting new wheels. Plus, the tree decal on the trunk of the car has small breast cancer awareness ribbons that could possibly be personalized.
Slovinsky said his mother always put everyone else first – so when he saw the car he worked so hard on for the first time, he started to cry, because he was able to honor his mother in many ways.
“This fulfilled what I wanted to do for my mom,” he said. “I didn’t do [the police officers] a favor, they did me a favor and they don’t even know it.”
All of the initial work was done in less than three weeks, in time for an unveiling at the Saint Peter’s University Hospital Breast Center on Oct. 12, since the hospital sponsored the decals.
“Saint Peter’s has always been on the front line in the battle against breast cancer,” said Leslie D. Hirsch, interim CEO and president of Saint Peter’s Healthcare System. “The Saint Peter’s Breast Center was the first breast center in central New Jersey to earn a full three-year accreditation by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, and in 2018, our breast center was reaccredited for the third straight time following our first accreditation in 2009.
“We are extremely proud to partner with the North Brunswick Police Department in delivering such a strong message to raise awareness about breast cancer, not only during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, but throughout the year.”
Most, if not all, of the 84 officers of the North Brunswick Police Department have been affected by cancer in one way or another.
This particular 2008 Dodge Charger had been used for off duty jobs, and was about to be decommissioned, when Captain Cory Harris thought of repurposing it for breast cancer awareness.
He said he had seen a similar car from Florida while researching on the internet.
“I thought, everybody seems to know somebody touched by breast cancer, or some form of cancer, and I thought it was a good idea to get the message out,” he said. “I didn’t realize how big it was until I started talking about it. … Everybody who comes in contact with the car has a story about someone affected by it.”
After discussing his idea with Police Director Kenneth McCormick and Deputy Chief Joseph Battaglia, he said he was given the go-ahead to pursue the restoration of the vehicle.
He said he spoke with Slovinsky, who already had the perfect pink paint color available, in addition to “a couple of extra cool ideas.” Battaglia had a connection at Saint Peter’s for the decals.
“We didn’t realize how many people would jump right in,” the chief said.
The vehicle has already made appearances during the Saint Peter’s Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day, and at North Brunswick’s Care to Walk event on Oct. 28.
It will be used at other events during the year in the hopes of raising donations.
“It’s been well received by the community,” Battaglia said. “Everybody has some connection. When the person starts telling stories, there’s a lot of happiness but a lot of tears.”
“We’ve gotten incredible, incredible, incredible exposure,” Harris said. “Although October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, breast cancer isn’t specific to a certain month. … The car can be utilized throughout the year. Breast cancer awareness is every day.”
With just about 52,000 miles on it, the car is still being used on patrol. Harris said even though the lights are pink, they still have the traditional red and blue, and the interior is a full police vehicle.
Although it has not been determined if another vehicle will be outfitted in such a way, Battaglia did say the department is focused on community outreach. The Choose Your Ride vehicle – which Harris also helped bring to fruition and Slovinsky restored – brings attention to designating a sober driver, while officers also participate in Coffee With a Cop and bring the department’s Hummer to local events.
“We believe that public awareness is best. Plus, it’s good PR [public relations] with the police department, when there is not always a good light on policing,” Battaglia said. “It gets the police and community to interact and that’s the most important thing.”
The Franklin Township Police Department also outfitted one of its administrative vehicles with a pink wrap that the community has signed.
Patrolman Mark Rossman, president of Local 154; Detective Kenny Daly, union delegate; and Sgt. Edward Stout attended a meetup between the North Brunswick and Franklin Township police departments at Wawa in North Brunswick on Oct. 23.
“It’s best when people like this are survivors or family members of survivors. It helps them get through it,” Rossman said.
Maximum Detailing in Hillsborough did the wrap, and Agin Signs in South Brunswick did the lettering. Since the wrap is removable, it can be used for different outreach purposes.
The SUV is currently used for special events, such as visiting local businesses, 5Ks, cancer walks, Synder’s Farm and the Spring Hills Somerset Senior Community.
Members of the department have also made donations in order to wear pink patches on their uniforms – part of the Pink Patch Project – as well as pink polo shirts and pink baseball hats. All funds will benefit the Sisters Network of Central New Jersey/Sister2Sister in Somerset.
For updates on the whereabouts of either police vehicle, visit the departments’ Facebook pages.
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.