Cancer Survival: Before and After the Battle
By Dianne Anderson
Cancer survivors, numbering about 37 million in America, know the drill of what cancer patients are still learning – that diet, exercise, proper nutrition, and the right attitude are essential from the first diagnosis to disease-free.
Sonya Adams started her journey five years ago of celebrating cancer survivors after retiring from her former job where she delivered checks from an insurance company to patients with cancer policies.
She was moved by their reactions.
“They were just so happy that a check was delivered so they could pay their rent, or mortgage, or car note or buy groceries, whatever they were behind on,” said Adams, President, and Founder of Celebrating A Vision.
She labored to think how she could help cancer survivors until one night she had a vision, which became her nonprofit namesake. Today, she offers random acts of kindness to cancer survivors that made it through the battle. Winners are randomly chosen for upscale experiences, limousine rides, and cruises.
Next month, she is taking ten cancer surviving children, ages eight to 18, on a cruise. She’s also taking 20 women on a jeep excursion through an exotic safari in Malibu.
“It’s an actual safari at over 1,000 acres of vineyards. You get wine, cheeses, and you get to see the animals,” she said. “We’ve just honored a prostate survivor. He went around the Fontana track in a Lamborghini. After he did his laps we celebrated him with a trophy.”
For her, it’s been important to provide survivors with an experience of a lifetime because they are getting a second chance at life. Soon, she is taking a group of Women to Cal Poly Farms to learn to plant their own food, and discover horticulture.
She feels survival is not accidental. “It’s making sure people understand what we’re putting in our bodies. It’s not just random acts of kindness, I promote healthy living, healthy cooking,” she said.
Patients are also coping through family and personal stress. One recent letter from a woman whose husband divorced her in the middle of her treatment because he couldn’t deal with it. Another woman had applied for disability and was denied several times.
She was almost destitute living on the streets.
“Everybody thinks you receive benefits when you’re diagnosed with cancer. I have people that go through cancer alone. That’s why I try to provide an enjoyable experience, even if it’s just for the moment,” she said.
Recently, she partnered with a temporary employment agency as some survivors may be trying to re-enter the workforce and can’t go back to their old jobs. This month, she is meeting with a college that wants to partner to send survivors to school tuition-free.
“The Employment, the therapeutic, the horticulture, I want them to continue to be healthy survivors,” she said.
In Orange County, health advocate Ernesta Wright said that her mission to provide health education started over 20 years ago as an answer to services that were not available at the local level.
Black women wanted and needed specific resources on breast cancer.
Family support was a big problem as so many African American communities were, and still are, reluctant to open up about cancer. It’s a taboo topic.
“You’re silently suffering because you didn’t have a place culturally for an information outlet and support group,” said Wright, executive director of The G.R.E.E.N. Foundation in Orange County.
Patients and survivors were also seeking support tailored to African American experiences, to share things they didn’t feel comfortable talking about in group settings, like hair loss, or access to natural wigs.
Her program started out of a cultural need in 1995. Since then, she has partnered with numerous evidenced-based research conferences in Sacramento, Oakland, Los Angeles, Orange County, and the Inland Empire.
“We like to come where we are invited,” she said. “Now we are part of several statewide collaboratives targeting and working within specialized populations with poor outcomes as it relates to cancer.”
Currently, she partners with a California tobacco protection program to spread an anti-tobacco message. She also works with a plastic surgery foundation to share breast cancer reconstruction options that many women are not aware of, or think the insurance is not available.
It’s one of the best-kept secrets for survivors.
“Even if they don’t make the decision after surgery, they don’t realize they still have their lifetime to decide if they want reconstruction. There is no limited time frame,” she said.
The Green Foundation offers a plethora of in-depth information for cancer patients. The nonprofit also seeks out financial assistance for one specific test that determines the best chemotherapy based on body type, saving valuable time and unnecessary pain.
“It’s more tailored. If they’re financially eligible, the $3,500 would be paid by another organization,” she said. “That’s a part of our care, we help you navigate services that you need in a personalized way.”
The GREEN foundation was also instrumental in helping one breast cancer patient receive experimental surgery. The hospital was in agreement that if she wanted it, they would pay for it.
“We advocated and they paid. She was running out of options based on her diagnosis,” Wright said. “It would have cost her $80,000.”
Currently, Wright services about 75 to 100 cancer patients and survivors. The main thing she tries to get across is there is hope. These days, she said many health professionals are looking at cancer similar to a chronic disease, something to be managed like diabetes and heart disease.
Her goal is that patients get diagnosed as early as possible.
“That way if you need to change some things you have options,” she said. “Change your diet, you have to live differently. Your body is telling you can’t do the same things because you know the end result.”
For more information, see the www.thegreenfoundation.net