Fighting cancer can be one of the most difficult things a person will ever face. Aside from the detriments caused by the disease, many available treatments leave patients drained and in pain. Keeping a positive, determined attitude can make a huge difference, in a patient or survivor’s ability to push forward and stay motivated. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting many cancer survivors who pushed through their illness: individuals who looked at their experience and wanted to use it to help others. These three advocates have all survived cancer and created non-profit organizations, in order to help educate, inspire, or treat cancer patients, as well as raising awareness around cancer risk factors and prevention.
Terri Wingham – A Fresh Chapter
At age 30, Terri Wingham was in the midst of one of the scariest battles a woman can ever have: aggressive breast cancer. After a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, double mastectomy and reconstructive surgeries, Terri’s screenings may have come up cancer-free but the mental and physical effects remained. Realizing that she needed a change that would inspire her, Terri quit a six-figure job, to volunteer with Cross-Cultural Solutions. Sometimes, a drastic decision and stepping out of your comfort zone can bring the change you need.
It was here there that Terri saw the loving support community created by those who share the same struggles. Deciding then to take a trip around American – followed by a five continent, six month voyage – it gave her the chance to interact with more volunteer organizations and formulate what she wanted to dedicate her life to. What came out of it was the Fresh Chapter Alliance Foundation: a way for cancer survivors to connect with one another and different communities, worldwide. Presenting international volunteer opportunities for survivors helps to empower those involved and bring them closer together. For more information, see Terri’s recent segment on CTV News.
Sean Swarner – CancerClimber Association
Sean Swarner was once given 14 days to live, after a terminal cancer prognosis. After being diagnosed with two unrelated cancer types at age 13 (advanced stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma) and 16 (Askin’s sarcoma), Sean’s life would never be the same again. Determined to move forward and use his battle with cancer as inspiration, Sean became the first cancer survivor to ever reach the peak of Mt. Everest: an incredible feat for anyone. After that climb, he continued; reaching the summit of the highest peaks on 6 continents.
“I want to defy boundaries, in order to change the way the world views cancer diagnosis”, said Sean (source: Climb for Change). It’s this positive attitude that Sean started The CancerClimber Association with: an organization that uses hope and inspiration to encourage cancer patients. Providing patient visits, support grants for adventures like that of Sean’s and a portable fun camp tour that stops at children’s hospitals, the group goal is to bring motivation and determination into those whose lives have been battered by cancer.
Debra Black – Melanoma Research Alliance
Once having an early form of skin cancer removed, Debra Black began going to regular screenings for skin-related cancers. When she discovered an unusual growth on the bottom of her foot, her dermatologist removed it, believing it to be a non-cancerous growth. When it came back, it was again removed. This went on for four years. At a friend’s podiatrist, a sonogram discovered that it was actually an aggressive stage II melanoma. Requiring surgery, skin grafts and six weeks with her leg elevated, she began the recuperation process from a wheelchair and walker.
This scare caused Debra to begin researching melanoma. Unhappy with the lack of attention for the deadly and aggressive disease, she co-founded the Melanoma Research Alliance, along with her husband and Michael Milken: another cancer survivor. Using their wealth, they were able to bring together 60 cancer specialists, researchers and doctors for annual scientific retreats, as well as funding melanoma research and potential treatment methods. After funding over 100 researchers in ten countries, the MRA has had a large international impact on melanoma research, thanks to Debra’s determination.
Their fight with cancer physically and psychologically impacted each of these individuals. While each one had a bit of a dark period of self-discovery, they have used their experiences with the disease, in order to form inspiring and influential non-profit organizations that empower survivors, encourage those going through treatment, and aid in research. We are honoured to have interacted with these groups, through our online communities and look forward to speaking with more advocates, survivors, and patients.