Empowered by Knowledge Strengthened by Action Sustained by Community



Harry & April Davidow

Josh Reid

 

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”

~ Albert Camus

For Lynn Stern, an ovarian cancer survivor, her “invincible summer” included planting the seeds 30 years ago for what has grown into Cincinnati’s Cancer Support Community (CSC), a philanthropic organization that helps men and women impacted by cancer find hope, education and emotional support.

A painting of Stern, painted by her husband Ned Stern, with Camus’ saying above it, is displayed in her memory in the cheery, warm and welcoming living room of the CSC’s Lynn Stern Center, located in Blue Ash.

“You would have loved her. She was the most dynamic woman,” recalls April Davidow, Stern’s sister-in-law. Davidow and her husband, Harry – Stern’s older brother – were integral in founding the CSC.

How It Began

It all started in 1988.

“Lynn was finished with her treatment for ovarian cancer, and she was watching The Phil Donahue Show,” April explains. The talk show’s featured guest that day was Dr. Harold Benjamin, founder of The Wellness Community in Santa Monica, California, a non-profit organization providing support and education to people with cancer and those who care for them.

“Harold said, ‘If anybody is interested in learning more about The Wellness Community, call me.’”

And that is exactly what Lynn did.

After talking with Dr. Benjamin, Lynn and her friend, Sherry Weathers, a breast cancer survivor, immediately flew to Santa Monica and met with Dr. Benjamin and his team at The Wellness Community. The two cancer survivors returned home to Cincinnati, seriously inspired. Lynn knew what she had to do.

“Harry and I picked Lynn and Sherry up from the airport,” April continues. “When they got off the plane they said, ‘We are starting a Wellness Community here in Cincinnati and you two are helping.’

“Harry had a lot of fund-raising experience from other organizations he had been involved in – Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and others; and I had been president of two organizations – Hadassah and the Auxiliary of Jewish Hospital,” April notes. “So, Lynn, Sherry, Harry and I, and their doctors, James Garfield and Walter Matern, were the first six people to become a part of it.”

A board of directors was soon named, a capital campaign committee was formed, and fundraising commenced. They needed $250,000 to start the organization and open its doors to the public.

In November 1990, Dan Staton donated the space to officially open the doors. The space was provided at The Towers of Kenwood. It was only the sixth Wellness Community in the nation at that time.

“We were told it would take two years to raise the money. We raised it in one. We were so smug,” Harry recalls, with a chuckle. “Then we all looked at each other and said, ‘Now what do we do?’ We had to figure out how to raise money to fund it.”

And so, they did.

An All-Inclusive Community of Hope

Sadly, Lynn experienced a reoccurence of cancer and passed away in 1999. But her compassionate can-do, will-do spirit lives on through the constantly evolving and expanding Cancer Support Community. Backed by scientific evidence that the best cancer care includes psychosocial and emotional support, CSC offers community-based services free of charge through professional-led support groups, educational workshops and presentations, healthy lifestyle programs, social activities and programs specific to families and children.

Because each person’s journey with cancer is unique, participants can choose from a comprehensive menu of programs offered at the main locations – the Lynn Stern Center in Blue Ash and the Northern Kentucky Cancer Support Community – as well as several partner locations. All CSC programs are free of charge to anyone with cancer at any stage – from diagnosis through survivorship, and their loved ones. Programs include support and networking groups, education, nutrition, movement and mind-body classes, social connections, family-friendly programs and many other resources and referrals.

The programs and services are designed to complement conventional medical care, enhance patients’ quality of life, strengthen survivor care, improve recovery and facilitate better communication with patients’ medical teams. Or, as Harry – a cancer survivor himself – says, CSC combines the will of each cancer patient with the skill of their physician.

Cincinnati’s Cancer Support Community moved into its current location, The Lynn Stern Center, in March 2001. The Wellness Community-National joined forces with Gilda’s Club Worldwide (a similar organization) to become The Cancer Support Community in 2009. The merger resulted in a global network offering emotional and social support to cancer patients and their families through free, professionally-led programs at hundreds of locations.

In 2011, the local organization changed its name to Cancer Support Community Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky to better establish a consistent identity within the global network, and to better communicate the global mission – to ensure that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action and sustained by community.

No One Should Face Cancer Alone

Three decades after Lynn Stern first recognized the local need for a community approach to cancer care, CSC continues to offer support to every individual impacted by cancer, including the patient’s spouse, partner, children, neighbors and friends. Programs and services are intended to provide non-medical care to individuals and families to support a holistic, patient-active approach to wellness.

“Harold (Benjamin) was big on patient-active care, a holistic approach,” Harry explains. “He said if you participate in your fight against cancer along with your medical team, you will enhance your quality of life; you may enhance your ability to recover.”

All Cancers. All Stages. All Ages.

“Our greatest and continued accomplishment is the number of participants CSC serves each year, and the positive outcomes they report after attending our programming,” says Tony Dellecave, Vice President of Development. “In 2018, CSC welcomed 4,000 cancer survivors and their loved ones, and that includes 1,680 new
participants. Last year was also another record-breaking year with a total of 25,228 visits to our programs. Our participants consistently tell us that they find their experience here to be uplifting and affirming. No one understands what it means to live with cancer better than another person with cancer.

“Participants walk through the door and there is always a smile, a hello, a ‘How are you doing?’ I’ve never seen a community like CSC – the participants, the staff, the volunteers – that just really gets behind each other.”

CSC is about connecting people and sharing wisdom, says Kelly Schoen, MSW, LISW, EVP of Programs. “The biggest thing is knowing you’re not the only one facing cancer, that no matter how you look or feel, you are always going to be accepted here. People may arrive nervous or a little bit scared, but a month later they’ve connected with four other people, and they’re having lunch in the kitchen.”

“I have recently joined CSC because this is a special place,” says Joe Workman, Executive Director. “The idea of a holistic support network as well as collective wisdom and experiences makes this unique. We are striving to be an all-inclusive community. We hope to make great strides in this area in the coming years because no none should face cancer alone. The sense of support and positive feelings in this place is amazing and I am so excited to be a small part of this community.”

As CSC evolves year to year, an annual survey gives Schoen direction in program planning.

“It’s not one formula,” she says. “We just started a young survivors’ group because their cancer experience may be different than that of older survivors. We also recently looked at the need for LGBTQ networking groups.”

Lynn Stern’s daughter, Kate Stern Gonzales, is involved with CSC’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which has increased the number of men and African Americans served through the philanthropic organization’s programming.

“And with a grant through our Cultural Inclusion Program, we’ve established a relationship with LYFT, which enables us to offer free transportation to people who can’t get here on their own,” Schoen notes.

To become part of this community, one can attend a Connect to Community meeting to learn all that CSC has to offer. Meetings are held Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at 10 a.m., and 12:30 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month, or by appointment, at the Lynn Stern Center. In Fort Wright, Kentucky, meetings are held the first Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m., or the third Monday of the month at 10 a.m., or by appointment.

Evening of Hope, A 30th anniversary celebration honoring the Davidows, is planned for Saturday, Oct. 5, at China Gourmet in Cincinnati. General ticketing is $150, and VIP tickets start at $250 and include valet parking. For more information, contact Tony Dellecave, 513.745.6322 or email tdellecave@cancer-support.or

 

Understanding, Friendship & Hope

On Tuesday afternoons, Charlene, Patricia, Eric, Bobbi and several other men and women gather at the Cancer Support Community’s Lynn Stern Center in Blue Ash to share their cancer journeys. Seated comfortably on cozy couches and chairs in a confidentiality-based oasis offering soothing understanding and compelling hope, participants encourage each other, cry, learn and laugh as they ride the emotional chemo/radiation/surgery/survivorship roller coaster.

“We’re a potpourri of cancer – we all have our own weird type – no run-of-the-mill or ‘normal’ cancers here,” Charlene remarks wryly. She was diagnosed with a rare, slow-growing cancer – neuroendocrine tumor carcinoma – in 1994. It eventually went into remission, but she was re-diagnosed with cancer in 2013. Charlene has continuously attended support group meetings since that time and is considered the “participant emeritus” of the group.

"I am a very big believer in support groups because of other past experiences in my life,” she says. “What has meant the most to me is that I have made such good friends. You meet people here because you have cancer in common, and then you find out you have other things in common.”

Charlene gives the rest of the group hope – a year ago she was in home hospice, but she began treatment with a newly-available drug in August 2018, finished treatment at the end of March  and, as she describes it, is doing well. “The treatment only provides three to five years progression-free survival – there is no cure – but I  now have another three to five years, hopefully,” she says.

“We all aspire to be Charlene,” says Patricia, who good-humoredly describes herself as a “complicated cancer patient,” having undergone treatment for two types of cancer.  “I’m pretty heathy right now, but it was a difficult winter. I live with the knowledge of how I am going to die because there is no cure. We’re looking only at a progression-free disease. My doctors say I may have one more surgery left.”

Listening to others’ cancer journeys and sharing hers made her realize that most people don’t listen as well as her fellow cancer patients.

“Your family is filled with their own sets of fears. They are your best cheerleaders, helping you in a variety of ways, but there are things they just can’t understand, so that is why this group is so amazing in how they listen,” Patricia says. “There is so much to learn from each other’s stories. You realize you have been in each other’s headspace, that you can do this. We offer each other support. There’s a lot of benefit in helping others, a lot of benefit from being helped, and a lot of benefit being heard really well. And God bless Christina because she allows us to say some of the dark things our families can’t hear. I love this group.”

Christina, a licensed social worker, is the group facilitator, heralded by the support group participants as perceptive, wise and truly tuned in to what they are going through.

“My biggest thing is, I just want people to come in and let their guard down a little bit and be in the moment, wherever they are,” Christina says. “If they are having a good day, good! If they have something on their mind, I want it out. I want the good, the bad and the ugly. This is a place where people don’t have to feel like they have to put on airs, or that they have to be a tough person, or that they have to be strong or positive.

“There’s nobody to protect in this room,” she adds. “Their kids aren’t here; their spouses aren’t here. There is nobody they have to be brave for. There is an acceptance here I can’t put into words. Everyone just feels safe to share what they want to share.”

Eric was diagnosed with stomach cancer in January 2018. When all scans were completed it was discovered the cancer had spread through his lymph node system to his liver.

“Stage 4 – that really threw me and my family for a loop,” he recalls. “This group gives me hope. People always say, ‘You got this!’ but in actuality, you are filled with self-doubt. It helps to come in here and meet each group participant and hear how they are handling their situation. It’s inspiring and amazing to hear the stories of the ups and downs, that even if you are down you will come up again. Each participant is living proof of that, and that gives me a better attitude. We may succumb eventually, but we learn how to live our lives now.”

In addition to the Tuesday afternoon adult support group and a couple of other educational workshops and programs Eric has attended, his three children – ages 18, 15 and 10 – have also benefited from the Cancer Support Community’s programming for youth affected by a family member’s cancer diagnosis. The Cancer Support Community offers great programs and events geared toward supporting the entire family, Eric points out.

“Medically, I’m doing pretty well. The tumors are shrinking, but the side effects of treatment can be awful,” he says. “So, I really enjoy this group and getting as much information and advice as they have to offer.”

Bobbi’s cancer journey has also been complicated, beginning with being diagnosed with a precancerous condition known as monoclonal gammopathy in 2016 following a routine blood test/blood pressure medication recheck. She and her husband had just sold their business and they were looking forward to enjoying retirement. Bobbi was eventually diagnosed with a rare type of slow-growing lymphoma, or blood cancer.

“I went from not having any symptoms and no problems and feeling great to suddenly having a very serious illness,” Bobbi recalls. She started chemo in July 2017, finished it that December, and she has been on a two-year maintenance treatment program scheduled to be completed at the end of this year. Meanwhile, though battling fatigue, a host of gastric issues and a diagnosis of another pre-cancerous condition, she rarely if ever misses a support group gathering.

“This group has been my lifeline,” Bobbi says. “You can bare your soul without repercussion. The people here have become my family. I feel bereft when I can’t go. It’s like a succor to your experience – quite literally food for thought when you are in here. There’s no judging or feeling like you’re the odd man out."

Cancer Support Community, Lynn Stern Center, is located at 4918 Cooper Road, Cincinnati, OH 45242. For more information, call 513.791.4060. Northern Kentucky Cancer Support Center is located at 1717 Dixie Highway, Suite 160, Ft. Wright, KY 41011. For more information. call 859.331.5568 or email info@cancer-support.org.