Photo above: “She handled things pretty well,” says Nichol Mattson of her daughter Zaida, who died from cancer at age 12. Mattson received support from Zac’s Legacy. Photo courtesy of Alison Medina Photography.
If you ever want to get someone to stop yammering about his or her real estate portfolio at a cocktail party, bring up cancer. There’s something about cancer that really brings out social awkwardness in people. This is much less true of other life-threatening illnesses like heart disease, which kills more people, and it points to one of the reasons cancer can feel so isolating.
If there’s anything that gets overlooked when someone’s diagnosed with cancer, it’s not the physical symptoms and medical interventions. Cancer’s secondary effects—social, emotional and financial—can seem more overwhelming than the disease itself.
“There‘s so much focus on just getting you through the physical piece of it,” notes Leah Barrett, cancer survivor and care navigator at Hope Lives. “Though this is changing—because this is what Hope Lives is all about—there’s still a lack of attention paid to all those other dimensions of a person while they’re going through treatment.”
It’s understandable, given the urgency of curative care, that other things get overlooked. But people shouldn’t be defined by the state of health they’re in. A person who just got diagnosed is the same person he or she was the day before.
In Northern Colorado there’s a thriving support network for people of all backgrounds, ages and diagnoses. If you or a loved one has any form of cancer, there are people here for you who have been through what you’re going through. Nonprofits focus on different types of patients and cancer-related issues, including breast cancer, children and young adults with cancer, financial assistance, self-care, family/caregiver support, social and emotional support, and other quality-of-life issues.
Here are three such organizations.
Nicole Rockwell was only 31 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer a little over a year ago. A number of doctors and nurses encouraged her to contact Hope Lives, a Fort Collins-based nonprofit that has for 18 years provided supportive and complimentary care to breast cancer patients. In the chaotic early days of screenings, biopsies and surgical consults, however, self-care wasn’t on the top of Nicole’s mind.
“You’re kind of a deer in the headlights when you’re first diagnosed and a lot goes in one ear and out the other,” she says.
People often experience a sense of isolation after learning they have cancer, and this may be most true of young patients with few peers who can relate to what they’re going through. Such was Nicole’s experience.
“I wouldn’t have gotten through this past year without the relationships that I’ve made here,” Nicole states. “I truly have a strong faith and there were times that I did not during this whole illness, but I really believe God has your back…. We’re not meant to understand things as we go through them, but looking back there’s no way that I would have met these amazing women if it wasn’t for cancer.”
Nicole still meets with a half dozen or so friends she met at a Hope Lives support group. Several are women like herself who are pretty young to have run the breast cancer gauntlet.
It’s important not to lose sight of the whole person during cancer treatment. That’s a call to arms for Barrett and the rest of the team at Hope Lives. Through its network, the organization provides acupuncture, physical therapy, lymphatic drainage massage, support groups, pet care and more than a dozen other services.
For Nicole, those services were a great help in managing the physical and emotional side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. She went to 14 or so acupuncture treatments with Janet Yelowchan, an acupuncturist and oncology counselor.
“I really feel like Janet helped a big part of that because a lot of the symptoms of chemo—nausea, all of that—I didn’t get too bad,” says Nicole. “You never know what you don’t know but I like to say that Janet was a big part of why that happened. And I never would have been able to afford or do that without Hope Lives.”
Nicole, now in remission, is a Hope Lives Ambassador.
Donate, apply for assistance, volunteer or become a partner at www.hopelives.org.
Zac’s Legacy Foundation
Nichol Mattson’s daughter Zaida was diagnosed with cancer in 2007. She was only 3.
“I didn’t know anything about having an ill child or really about cancer, so we were placed overnight in a very different world,” Nichol recalls.
For parents who don’t know whether a child is going to be around for another year, having additional stress related to finances must feel like gasoline on a house of cards. Zac’s Legacy Foundation helps Colorado families caring for children with cancer with nonmedical financial burdens. Families, then, have greater freedom to focus on supporting one another instead of collections notices.
Zac’s Legacy Foundation became involved in Zaida’s case early, providing direction and support for fundraising efforts. The foundation continued supporting Zaida and her family through ten years of treatments.
“I don’t know how we would have been able to manage,” says Nichol. “People that don’t have this type of help, they just go into debt and they go bankrupt. I mean that’s like compounding problem on top of problem. And Zac’s Legacy rallied to prevent something like that. They were there for every fundraiser, they provided support and direction, and they made a huge difference.”
Out-of-state travel for treatments in Houston and New York consumed months of the Mattsons’ time. Expenses including lost income can be staggering under less-severe circumstances.
“It made it so that we didn’t have to worry about the money, so we could focus on doing everything we possibly could do to extend her life as much as we could,” says Nichol.
There are incidental social and emotional benefits to the foundation’s work as well.
“It’s very isolating, but then when you realize that you have a thousand people rooting for you, it really helps you to find the strength and to just not be alone,” Nichol says. “And then of course you end up meeting other families that are struggling with similar life-threatening illnesses too, so that always helps.”
Nichol says Zaida was a “spitfire.”
“She was pretty tough, but she wasn’t one of those kids that would just smile and pretend everything was okay. She was a good kid.”
It can be hard to ask for help when you’re going through something painful and frightening, but help is a lot closer than it may seem.
“As hard as it is, let people help you, and if you don’t know what to do, ask somebody to help you figure it out,” Nichol says.
“If you’re struggling financially or with anything, ask somebody and they will figure it out…somebody will find some answers and get you connected to the people who can really help because it’s overwhelming and it’s really hard to ask for help. But people want to help. Everybody wants to help…
“And it makes you feel less alone, too.”
Zac’s Legacy Foundation allowed Zaida and her family the freedom to spend far more time together during her life than would otherwise have been possible. “She was happy,” Nichol says. “She handled things pretty well.”
The world lost Zaida last year at the age of 12.
Donate or apply for assistance at https://ZacsLegacy.org.
Inheritance of Hope
After losing her adult daughter Marci to cancer in July 2015, Carol Lacert almost immediately began the Northern Colorado chapter of Inheritance of Hope. With the help of friend and collaborator Theresa Whyard, whose husband died of leukemia in 2012, she raised $20,000 in three months and sent four families on legacy retreats.
Legacy retreats are the signature offering of Inheritance of Hope (which also offers literature, college scholarships, counseling and other tools). The trips provide a chance for families facing the loss of a parent to bond, to work on understanding and expressing feelings, to set other things aside for a few days, have fun and build memories.
Carol regards the retreat she went on with her daughter and granddaughter as one of the most meaningful experiences of her life, and she’s not the only one.
“Marci had said, ‘If anything good came out of my cancer, it was this retreat,‘” she says.
“The love and the support and all the work everybody did made us feel like we were really special and that we had a support system that was going to get us through whatever we had to face. And they still get me through.”
Carol attributes a lot of the success of her efforts to the many lives Marci touched. Going into the retreat, Marci’s daughter Hannah “thought she was all alone in the world,” Carol says.
“She came out of that shell the second day she was there and she hasn’t stopped since. I mean she’s doing really well. But it was because of Inheritance of Hope. Inheritance of Hope gave her hope.”
“I really started [this chapter]—well I asked to start it—so other families could benefit like we did. And it has worked. And you know I think it’s therapy in a way for me too because I can kind of give back.”
A Christian faith-based organization, Inheritance of Hope welcomes families of all faiths and backgrounds. To date, the Northern Colorado chapter has funded 11 families in Weld County and Larimer County to attend legacy retreats to Orlando or New York. It touts that 86 cents of every dollar raised goes to the families’ travel, hotel, park entrances and meals. If you’re familiar with nonprofit management, you know that’s impressive.
Donate or apply for a retreat here: https://give.inheritanceofhope.org/fundraiser/905001.
Until cancer and humanity part ways…
Many people alive today remember a time when cancer was a death sentence. Some cancers today are terminal, but more are curable or at least manageable chronic illnesses.
If you haven’t been or aren’t in the position of a patient or caregiver, remember one thing: A person who has just been diagnosed with cancer is the same person he or she was the day before. It’s better to risk saying the wrong thing than to treat someone like they’re contagious.
If you or someone you love has been affected by cancer, remember that someone’s ready to stand in your corner and that person isn’t hard to get on the line.
Maybe someone within your lifespan will be writing, “It’s strange to think about, but there are people alive today who remember a time when a cancer diagnosis was something to be afraid of.”
That idea isn’t the least bit strange.
Nonprofits rely on business support to fund their missions. Here are a few local businesses that you can patronize if you want to support a good cause.
FORT COLLINS DODGE, CHRYSLER, JEEP
Will donate $100 from every vehicle purchase in October to benefit Hope Lives.
ODD 13 BREWING, Lafayette
Visit the brewery for a taste of its special pink Chainsaw Princess Of Karate, a sour-smoothie IPA, and to make a donation to the Hope Lives program.
THE WILD GAME, Longmont
Will donate ten percent of the total bowling revenue in October to three nonprofit programs: Roberta’s Legacy, Hope Lives and Boulder Community Hospital.
GOOD DAY PHARMACY, Fort Collins
Will offer food, cocktails, prizes, and conversation with medical professionals, 4:30–7 p.m., October 11. Hope Lives Survivor Ambassador Cecilie Richmond will discuss how she benefited from the Hope Lives program. A donation is requested.
KENDRA SCOTT, Denver
On October 13, 20 percent of sales will benefit Inheritance of Hope as part of the National Kendra Cares Giveback Event. Theresa McKinley, active in the Northern Colorado chapter of IoH, will be at the Cherry Creek Kendra Scott store to discuss IoH’s mission.
Join Loveland Aleworks from 6-11 p.m., October 14, for the Pints for the People program; a dollar for every pint sold goes to Hope Lives. Prizes will be awarded to 12 people dressed in pink!
The HUMAN BEAN, Multiple locations
Will donate 100 percent of sales to local cancer projects as part of its Coffee for a Cure campaign on October 19.
BECKS’ MARTIAL ARTS, Fort Collins
Kickathon begins at noon; auction at 3 p.m., October 20. This amazing group of Kukkiwon warriors of tomorrow are committed to raising $10,000 to benefit Hope Lives.
John Garvey is a freelance copywriter and business storyteller in Fort Collins. His wife is a breast cancer survivor. Read more of his work at www.GarvingtonCreative.com. To comment on this article, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.