The last thing I was expecting at 32 years old was to be diagnosed with cancer. I had 2 young children, ages 6 and 1 at the time. I remember the fear and uncertainty that I experienced as I began the journey through months of medical issues, numerous doctors and countless tests. Initially I was diagnosed with spastic colon and irritable bowel syndrome, and given medicine to control the pain. It was only after my ovary ruptured, which led to a buildup of fluid in my abdomen (ascites), that the small “cyst” on my ovary was identified for what it was, an anomaly. Even then, I was told that it wasn’t likely cancer. I was too young for cancer after all. Surgery was scheduled to remove the anomaly and a week later the pathology results came back. I finally had answers: it was cancer, Granulosa Cell Tumor, very rare.
My world stood still. As my body endured toxic drugs meant to heal me, I became weak and unable to care for myself and my family. I had lost the ability to do what meant the most to me and I really struggled with understanding why this was happening.
Around the same time, my son, wanted to help raise money for cancer research and in one afternoon, our community rallied around him raising $1,700. At 6 years old, he was given the ability to feel like he was making a difference and it was so empowering for him to have a positive impact, when everything seemed so negative.
While I continued to fight my physical battle, I began preparing for what would come next. At one point, my husband told me, “I think God gave this to you because he knew you would do something with it.” I knew that I needed to give this part of my life a purpose. There had to be a positive outcome from this ordeal so that I could move on and know that there was a reason for it all. I needed my children to understand that there is good even in the bad; that there can always be hope found among the heartache.
When I thought about what impact I could have, I remembered all of the support that I received throughout my cancer journey. I also realized that many people do not have those supports, and that there was a need in my community to establish a program which provided cancer patients with assistance in an encouraging and hopeful way.
This was the beginning of HOPE’S Wing and our first program was a Faces of Cancer Video which features survivors and caregivers sharing their stories, all with an underlying theme of HOPE. Follow our page on You Tube (https://www.youtube.com/user/HOPESWing) and see an example of one of our videos below. We also started delivering care bags to patients undergoing cancer treatment.
As HOPE’S Wing began to grow, I once again thought about what impact I wanted the organization to have in the community. Again, I was reminded that cancer doesn’t just affect a patient. It affects the entire family. It isn’t just a physical illness, but it can devastate a family emotionally, mentally and financially. I thought of what my own children went through, watching their mother fade away and not understanding why. And I knew of the financial impact families encounter as they pay medical bills instead of saving for college. No family should ever have to choose between sending a child to college and paying for cancer treatment. With this in mind, we set out to develop the HOPE’S Wing scholarship fund, so that we could alleviate a part of that financial burden. In the last 2 years, we have awarded $3,000 to high school seniors in Iredell County, NC who had their lives turned upside down by cancer.
In 2016, we added even more programs and have expanded from Iredell into Alexander County, NC as well. Through our Circle of HOPE fund we are able to deliver nutritious meals to patients and their families as they undergo treatment, when their bodies need nutrition the most. We have also established a wig bank and a financial crisis assistance program for patients who are struggling with the financial burden brought on by cancer. With that program we have been able to help families pay their mortgage and utilities, provide gas and meal cards, and help with medical expenses.
As I think about all that HOPE’S Wing has done, and all that we are yet to do to help support cancer patients and provide hope to them when they need it most, I remember what gave me hope. I was blessed with the support of loved ones, friends and even strangers who rallied around me. I am thankful that I have been able to use my experience to make a difference, and to pay forward all of the love, support and hope that I received. I’m also thankful that as my children grow, they can see what HOPE’S Wing has become and know that, no matter what challenges and trials they face, HOPE can always shine through the clouds of uncertainty and fear.
You can find out more about our programs, and how you can help, by visiting our website at www.hopeswing.org