Community Gives Day: Portia’s Story

Portia was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2019. She credits regular mammograms for early detection. After her diagnosis, Portia had surgery and then daily radiation for 10 weeks.

The most difficult part of her experience was hearing the word CANCER. “I just froze. It shocked me,” said Portia. “Hearing the C word and not knowing what was ahead, I felt powerless and defeated, but that did change, fortunately.”

Portia credits many people with helping her through a difficult period, like the nurse at the Imaging Center who helped her not be afraid of the C word. Portia also relied on her faith. “I knew that if I were to die, that would be ok.”

“I had good support from my family, friends, and faith community,” Portia noted. “Having information from my doctor about exactly what to expect was helpful. They put me in contact organizations that helped with transportation, meals, and house cleaning, and they connected me with Cancer Support Community.”

One of Portia’s friends was diagnosed around the same time. “It probably sounds awful, but it was good to have friends go through it with me. It was not a journey I made alone, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but it really is a road you cannot travel alone.”

Portia started attending Cooking for Wellness classes and everything changed for her nutrition and health. “After cancer, I went into congestive heart failure and one of the things that was important was the way I ate. Attending the Cooking for Wellness classes has improved my nutrition and given me the confidence to try new recipes. The health benefits of eating properly and learning from the dietitian about the contents of food, like the fat, sodium, and sugar, have been so helpful.”

Asked about her favorite dish, Portia said she likes Chef Jason’s side dishes like roasted potatoes and asparagus, as well as his salmon recipe. Portia says of our cooking classes, “They have been a good experience through Zoom. The healthy recipes are great in staying healthy.”

Asked about her advice to others, Portia said, “I am firm believer in a positive attitude. Going through treatment is difficult, but a positive attitude really helps. Be proactive, ask questions, take charge of your health, and if a plan isn’t working, change it, and find a team that will work with you.”

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Portia was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2019. She credits regular mammograms for early detection. After her diagnosis, Portia had surgery and then daily radiation for 10 weeks. The most difficult part of her experience was hearing the word CANCER. “I just froze. It shocked me,” said Portia. “Hearing the C word and not… Read more.

Meet Judy

Judy’s cancer journey started in 2009 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had found a lump but hadn’t told anyone for several weeks, fearing the worst. When her friend convinced her to make an appointment, the doctor didn’t think it was cancer but referred her to a specialist who confirmed that it was a very aggressive type of breast cancer. After a biopsy Judy underwent more than five months of chemotherapy to shrink the size of the tumor before she was scheduled for a bilateral mastectomy.

Surgeons also removed several lymph nodes and confirmed that she had Stage III cancer. Aggressive radiation treatment followed surgery. “I was sick for a whole year,” recalls Judy.

As a single mom of three school-age kids, it was a difficult time for Judy. “I was so weak, I couldn’t do anything for myself,” she offered. “I was terrified that I’d be dead and buried before my kids graduated from high school.” Knowing that others were there to help her family made all the difference for Judy.

Support from friends and family carried Judy through that period. “My neighbors and fellow church members brought food and sent cards of encouragement. They were there for the day-to-day things like cutting the grass, cleaning my house, driving me to the store or doctors’ appointments,” she remembers. “I never knew I had so many friends; everyone was wonderful.”

During her cancer treatment in 2010, Judy was introduced to Cancer Support Community. As soon as she was able to get around, Judy started attending the programs, including Qigong and the healthy cooking classes. “I went to as many programs as I could; I was there all the time.” As a way to start giving back and helping others at Cancer Support Community Judy, who plays the harp, gave a concert for fellow cancer survivors.

“It’s so important not to feel alone when you’re facing cancer,” Judy said. “In the worst part of my journey Cancer Support Community was there for me. The emotional support I received helped me get my life back. I’ve learned that it’s important to know that there are people around you to help, to have a community.”

When the COVID pandemic hit, Judy started attending the programs online. “The Zoom classes are great. They brought the classes right into my house,” she said. She attends the Mindfulness Hour and yoga programs and is a regular participant in the weekly Qigong classes.

Now that it has been more than 11 years since her diagnosis and treatment, Judy finds satisfaction in being able to help others who are going through the cancer journey. “It was important during my difficult times to meet and learn from others who shared the same experiences during their own treatment. It was comforting and encouraging, just knowing I wasn’t alone in this and to have a community of people I could count on.”

Sharing her strength, wisdom, and hope with others also means sharing what Cancer Support Community has brought to Judy’s life. “This place is a pot of gold; it has helped me so much. I refer people to Cancer Support Community all the time, so they find the support and community that helped me. People living with cancer need as much help as we can get.”

With your gift this holiday season you can provide hope for participants like Judy who found Cancer Support Community when they needed it most.

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Judy’s cancer journey started in 2009 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had found a lump but hadn’t told anyone for several weeks, fearing the worst. When her friend convinced her to make an appointment, the doctor didn’t think it was cancer but referred her to a specialist who confirmed that it was… Read more.

Meet Nancy

The following is an interview a member of our staff conducted with participant Nancy Fritz! We’re excited to share her story and hope she inspires our readers as much as she inspires us.

Meet Nancy

How would you describe your cancer journey, your experience with cancer?

Well, cancer was pretty rampant on my mom’s side of the family: I don’t have any close living relatives on my mom’s side, and my mom died of breast cancer as did her younger sister. So, I always felt I had high chances of having the same experience with cancer that my mom’s side of the family had. I’ve been getting routine mammograms since I was 35, had precancerous polyps in my GI tract, and have had abnormal paps. And then, 11 years ago, I was diagnosed with a form of skin cancer. Luckily, it was very treatable and easily removed. So, I was in the clear, but started having annual skin scans after that, which a decade later caught malignant melanoma. Since it was caught early, it could be removed, and I was again cancer free.

And where are you now in your cancer journey?

After the melanoma was treated, I moved to having skin scans every 3 months. But recently, things have been looking clear for a while and so I’ve been upgraded to every 6 months. And it was about two years ago that I discovered Cancer Support Community. You know, it was strange, because I didn’t really know how much I needed to be here, to be a part of this community, until I was here. I thought, I currently don’t have cancer, I’m not sick. But I attended a drum circle program elsewhere when I heard that Cancer Support Community had one as well and decided to check it out. And because of the connections I made there, I’ve been attending ever since.

What is one thing you would say you’ve gained through your experience with cancer?

One thing I’ve definitely gained is a meaningful community. I’ll put it this way. I recall one drum circle session when there was a new person joining the group and the facilitator wasn’t there. I made an effort to welcome the new person, empathizing with how hard it must be to start as a new participant in a self-guided session. At that point, someone said, Nancy, you should do it! You should lead! And that meant so much because I knew these people, and they knew me, knew me well enough to know how I could benefit the group. Now that all the sessions are virtual, they tell me they miss seeing me when I’m not in the Zoom meetings: these are my friends, my new family, living together with me through the cancer that touched their lives as it did mine.

What advice would you give to families and caregivers trying to figure out how best to support a cancer patient or survivor?

For me, one of the most important things to realize is that suffering does not have to be the defining feature of one’s cancer journey; rather, it can be about connection. I know my mom understood this: she started organizing her own cancer support group on the fly, calling people who she knew also had or were in treatment for breast cancer. This was in the seventies—no cell phones, no Facebook. She only had one wired phone but brought people together. I was a senior in college when my mom died, and it was a terrible loss; the person in my life I was closest with was gone and I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it.

I also lost my best friend to breast cancer around the same time as my first diagnosis. We had been each other’s caregiver, getting one another groceries and helping out wherever it was needed. Losing her was extremely hard as well, and I continued to feel like there were not many people I could talk to who had similar experiences with cancer. It’s important to have a community where you can say, this is scary, but we’re okay.  A lot more people who are affected by cancer could benefit from the shared community environment you find at Cancer Support Community.

If you could provide someone advice or encouragement, what would you tell them?

I know people living with cancer, or who have loved ones with cancer or have lost loved ones to cancer, who know I am involved with Cancer Support Community but never seem inclined to join. They may believe, like I did, that these groups and services are only for old and dying people. But what I realized here, and what I would tell folks, is that when you have cancer, you’re not dead, you’re not at death’s door, you’re living. Life does not have to revolve around the disease; everyone here has real lives and is facing cancer alongside living. Community helps you live.

When you donate, you become a part of our community by sustaining this caring environment that provides hope and strength to patients and survivors, like Nancy, and their families as they live with, through, and beyond cancer.

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The following is an interview a member of our staff conducted with participant Nancy Fritz! We’re excited to share her story and hope she inspires our readers as much as she inspires us. Meet Nancy How would you describe your cancer journey, your experience with cancer? Well, cancer was pretty rampant on my mom’s side… Read more.

We Celebrate Greg

Greg was training for a half ironman triathlon in 2014 as a tribute to the wife of a friend who has passed away the year before. Greg had been having problems with his knee and wanted to have it checked out so he could continue his training regimen. During the exam, a blood test was done that showed a high PSA level, which can be an indicator of prostate cancer, and a biopsy confirmed the diagnosis.

“I had to learn a lot about prostate cancer in a short period of time,” Greg said. He went through five months of radiation, and although he had some side effects from the treatments, he was able to continue working. “I actually competed in the triathlon and it went pretty well, but the thought of the cancer returning was always in the back of my mind.”

In late 2017, Greg got sick with what he thought was the flu. He went to the hospital when he started throwing up blood and tests found a grapefruit-sized tumor on his stomach. His health care team removed the tumor and fortunately Greg was told the cancer was treatable.

“I lost my girlfriend to pancreatic cancer 13 years ago,” offered Greg. “It was devastating; it’s something that never leaves you when you lose someone like that. And now I had to deal with cancer myself, twice.” Greg is now on a regular schedule of having check-ups and scans and routinely has his PSA levels checked. “It’s a scary situation. I’m always worried about the cancer coming back.”

In 2018, Greg was looking for a support group and found Cancer Support Community. He started attending yoga and the Cooking for Wellness programs. When Governor DeWine issues stay-at-home orders because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Greg started attending the virtual programs.

“I take the yoga classes four times a week, and log into the mindfulness sessions as well,” said Greg. “They help me feel better physically. My knee keeps me from running and I’m stuck inside anyway. So, these classes are great. They help me relax and lessen my anxiety. I try to practice the something I learn in yoga every day, and overall, it makes me feel better.”

“I really appreciate Cancer Support Community offering these programs online during this time. The fact that they’re available for free is an added benefit.”

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Greg was training for a half ironman triathlon in 2014 as a tribute to the wife of a friend who has passed away the year before. Greg had been having problems with his knee and wanted to have it checked out so he could continue his training regimen. During the exam, a blood test was… Read more.

We Celebrate Aireen

It was an average day at work as a medical doctor in 2017 when the nurses noticed something was off with Pedro. When he started to lose his speech, we went to the emergency room and an MRI found lesions in his lungs with the cancer rapidly spreading to his brain.

Pedro’s prostate cancer diagnosis in 2015 had been difficult, but this was even more devastating for all of us – our daughter and son and their families. It all happened so quickly! As a doctor, Pedro knew his prognosis presented a challenging journey ahead. He went through chemotherapy and radiation, but the cancer was relentless.

Between the endless hospital visits and appointments, being his caregiver was overwhelming. I took care of him both in the hospital and at home. Caring for him felt like a roller coaster. Some days were good, most of them were not. Some nights I would only get an hour or half an hour of sleep, if I was lucky. I was constantly fatigued. I wanted to be there for him, but the challenge of caring for Pedro left me physically and mentally exhausted.

At Cancer Support Community, I found hope and respite. Five years ago, after Pedro’s original diagnosis, a friend saw the stress I was dealing with and invited me to a yoga class at Cancer Support Community. Having this organization as a resource was so helpful, especially when we received Pedro’s second diagnosis. Being around others who were dealing with the same situation made it a little easier. I was able to share my hopes, fears and challenges with others who understood. Coming to a cooking or yoga class, even for just for an hour, helped relieve my stress. The programs and the people I met helped me realize I needed to take care of myself to be able to provide the best care for Pedro.

I’m grateful that Cancer Support Community was there when I needed the support. The nice thing is that they’re still here for me as I adjust to life without my husband. I’ve learned ways to take care of myself and reduce my stress at my favorite programs, Gentle Yoga, Belly Dancing, and Cooking for Wellness. I’ve developed friendships with people who understand how cancer changes families and who understand the stress of taking care of a sick loved one. We share stories, we share hugs, and we lift each other up.

I’d like to thank Cancer Support Community for helping me on this journey.  I didn’t sign up to be a caregiver any more than Pedro signed up to have cancer, but I am so thankful that they’re here for me.

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It was an average day at work as a medical doctor in 2017 when the nurses noticed something was off with Pedro. When he started to lose his speech, we went to the emergency room and an MRI found lesions in his lungs with the cancer rapidly spreading to his brain. Pedro’s prostate cancer diagnosis… Read more.