Organizations Help Patients with Support, Guidance

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is tough. Several area organizations seek to help those affected by providing support. A few of these organizations follow.

Sharon Clark is on the board of directors at Breast Cancer Network of Western New York in Depew. She helps provide the support she only wishes she could have had when she was diagnosed in 1979. She was only 38 then and discovered a lump herself. Her doctor advised her to have a modified radical mastectomy because of her family health history of several first-degree relatives with cancer. Shortly after diagnosis, her marriage ended and she entered nursing school so she could eventually support herself and her three children.

“I felt so alone,” Clark said.

She had a lump in the other breast two years later and repeated the ordeal. Since then, she has remained in good health. Despite these difficulties, she feels grateful for her life and the positive outcomes.

“My outlook on life and everything changed,” she said. “At the time I thought it was horrible but it was one of the best things to happen to me.”

She found that joining Breast Cancer Network to help others has proven cathartic. The organization offers support groups, educational meetings with guest speakers, restorative health classes, exercise classes and financial assistance. They also provide totes filled with information and handouts from organizations such as the American Cancer Society.

Fundraisers, third-party fundraisers and private donations support Breast Cancer Network.

Ovarian Cancer Project of Williamsville serves Western New York by raising awareness and education on ovarian cancer and providing support to people diagnosed with cancer. One sample of the latter is the organization’s signature Comfort & Hope Tote.

“These totes have been lovingly developed by survivors who want to send a message of hope to women following in their footsteps,” said Kathleen Kelly-Maxian, president of the organization.

The organization also organizes professionally facilitated patients support groups, caregiver support group, and the Woman to Woman Mentoring program, which pairs ovarian and gynecologic cancer patients with trained volunteers who have had their own gynecological cancer experience.

“They can help you and your loved ones cope by providing one-on-one emotional support and information,” Kelly-Maxian said. “Our mentors give hope and special insights that can only come from someone who has been on the same journey.”

In addition, the group offers patient advocacy on treatment options, community education and a speakers’ bureau to offer motivational speakers on women’s health issues.

Kelly-Maxian said that it’s important for more people to know about ovarian cancer, as it is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death.

The organization welcomes volunteers to help with events and as health educators.

Hope Chest Buffalo promotes good health for women who have survived breast cancer.

“We’re positive about what we’re doing, improving our health and fitness level, and our nutrition classes help us learn how to maintain a healthy diet,” said Anne Kist, director.

She also coaches the organization’s dragon boat team that provides both fitness opportunities and camaraderie for members. Not all of the 200-plus members are on the team. Hope Chest also provides other exercise programs six days a week that include weights, Pilates, aerobic workouts and stretching.

Periodic fundraisers and third-party fundraisers provide most of Hope Chest’s support, with help from donors and grants. Hope Chest appreciates donations of bottled water and, for refurbishing the boats, painting and sanding supplies. Snacks and office supplies also come in handy. Volunteers are welcomed to help with events.

“I see when survivors come in,” Kist said. “They are intimidated, not sure of themselves. This is a whole new world for them. They’ve finished treatment and they’re out on their own. They come very timid and shy. Within a few weeks, they’ve turned their lives around and see what other survivors are doing. They can have a better life. We want to not just survive but thrive.”

Kaely Kwitek founded Kaely’s Kindness Foundation in Orchard Park to “provide acts of kindness to teens girls touched by cancer by assisting them with their emotional, physical, and practical needs,” Kwitek.

Kwitek was diagnosed at age 16 and had stage 4 cancer. Now 23, she hopes that her support can help other teen girls with cancer.

“Being able to support them brings them hope,” Kwitek said. “Having a role model in someone who’s past that gives them hope.”

The group meets every other week for activities like a spa day, health educational classes, seasonal parties and outings like back-to-school shopping. Practical help may include aiding the family with car payments, lawn care, furnace repair, or other expenses that can help the family focus on the girl’s health, both now and for the after effects of their cancer treatment.

Fundraisers and grants keep Kaely’s Kindness going, along with donations.

Practical donations could include items for the “chemo bags” Kaely’s Kindness gives out, such as blankets, hand sanitizer, gift cards for the restaurants in the hospital, books and colored pencils and adult coloring books. For meetings, items like movies and snacks are helpful.

Anyone wishing to volunteer could offer help during events.

“It makes it more impactful for the girls to see someone like me who’s been there,” Kwitek said. “It’s so rewarding to make a difference in someone’s life. Some can’t afford much because of what the treatments have done to their family. Giving them $200 to do back-to-school shopping brings them such joy.”

Photo: Hope Chest Buffalo sponsors the dragon boat team that provides both fitness opportunities and camaraderie for members, usually canceer patients. Photo provided.