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.

We Celebrate Kathleen

On vacation in North Carolina in 2011 with her husband, Ben, Kathleen was busy weaving and creating handmade baskets. They were having a great time and she was enjoying doing something she absolutely loves. Then, she received a call from her doctor regarding a recent routine mammogram. Kathleen had a sinking feeling that her vacation was about to come to an abrupt end. She had had years of routine mammograms and subsequent follow-up appointments for other tests, but she just knew something was wrong this time. Those previous experiences had given her the opportunity to process and prepare should she ever need to face cancer. She had decided that should it come to that, she would be ready to face it, to deal with it. Her mindset would be, this is just what it is

And indeed, her suspicions were confirmed by her doctor’s office: Kathleen was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.

“I have a very positive attitude about everything, and I figured I’d just deal with this,” Kathleen said. “But it was a challenge just to sort everything out to make necessary decisions,” she continued. “I had so many questions. Should I begin a chemotherapy or radiation treatment plan? When should I have surgery? Should I participate in clinical trials?” After much consideration, Kathleen decided to join a clinical trial, and three months later she had a mastectomy.

Eighteen months later, after finding a swelling in her neck, Kathleen heard those words again, “You have cancer.” The breast cancer had metastasized.

Once again, Kathleen’s positive attitude prevailed, and she thought she could get past this episode as well. But then, as she recalled, “My husband and I were at a conference about metastatic cancer and they told us that it is not curable. That was the first time I heard that the cancer I had was incurable. That was a big surprise.”

The hits kept coming. Another tumor was found on the other side of her neck. Then, in 2017, Kathleen was starting to feel unsteady when she walked. When she started vomiting, she went to the emergency room where an MRI found a cancerous brain tumor. “The tumor was on the cerebellum, which controls balance, so that’s why I was wobbly,” she stated. In 2019, a tumor was found at the base of her spine, which led to chemo and radiation, as surgery was not an option due to risk of paralysis.

Through it all, Kathleen’s optimism never waned. She started taking yoga classes to help with her balance. She learned about Cancer Support Community through the yoga instructor and began attending programs here about six years ago. “Yoga has been an important part of my exercise program throughout my cancer journey,” Kathleen offered. “The yoga instructor, Abby, is tremendous.”

Kathleen attended yoga and the Cooking for Wellness programs at the Cancer Support Community facility prior to the pandemic, although she had to drive 45 minutes one way. So, when the programs were transitioned to a virtual platform, Kathleen was very pleased. “I hadn’t used Zoom before, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect,” Kathleen reported. “But once I learned what to do, it was easy. Now I can attend the yoga programs several times a week right from home. For me, it’s an important part of staying healthy, along with the Workout with Friends and Cooking for Wellness classes.”

Kathleen says her faith in God has been important during her journey. Her husband also has played an active role. After 36 years of marriage, he is a major source of strength, standing by her side and encouraging her. Kathleen recently turned 69 and her goal is to reach her 80th birthday. She continues to have a positive outlook on life, taking it all in stride, one day at a time.

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On vacation in North Carolina in 2011 with her husband, Ben, Kathleen was busy weaving and creating handmade baskets. They were having a great time and she was enjoying doing something she absolutely loves. Then, she received a call from her doctor regarding a recent routine mammogram. Kathleen had a sinking feeling that her vacation was… Read more.