Hope for Two

Hope for Two was the first organization I found while scouring the internet for people like me. They helped to ease my fears, made me realize that I was not alone, and have provided great support to me and many others. Here is their story.

What is your program all about and how did you find yourself involved?

Hope for Two was founded in the Fall of 1997 by three women who met and bonded over a shared experience – all three were diagnosed and treated for cancer while pregnant.

On December 1st, 1995, halfway through the pregnancy with her third child, Patty Murray, a founder and the current Board Chairwoman, was diagnosed with advanced stage Breast Cancer. Her excitement and anticipation were crushed. She was suddenly filled with fear and confusion, unsure of the options available to her – whether or not she could continue with the pregnancy or if she would be forced to terminate the pregnancy. She found that when she sought her doctors’ advice, they had very little experience to offer. On blind faith, Patty decided to continue the pregnancy while undergoing major surgery and chemotherapy.

The next year was filled with visits to the doctor for chemotherapy and check-ups: the obstetrician once a week, an ultrasound to check the health of the baby once a week, and the oncologist once or twice a week for chemotherapy. She was the bald pregnant lady at the obstetrician and the young woman with the big belly at the oncologist. She lived those months with the paralyzing fear that she had made a terrible decision – fear that her baby would be born with deformities, fear that her cancer would spread to her bones, and fear that this child, as well as her two older children, would be left without a mother. The treatments were so exhausting that Patty feared she would be unable to keep up her strength for the baby to survive.

The day before her lumpectomy, as she rubbed her small stomach with her baby inside, was spent writing her will instead of setting up the baby’s room. During this time of immense uncertainty and confusion, Patty was introduced to two women who had successfully undergone cancer treatments while pregnant – Mary Rose and Lisa. These women were able to provide the emotional support and understanding that Patty was unable to get anywhere else. These two women understood the dread, consternation and isolation she was experiencing. They helped to relieve the fear about the effects the treatment would have on her child. Their children were born healthy and were developing at a normal rate. At a time of constant uncertainty and apprehension, Mary Rose and Lisa offered a sense of stability and hope.

Patty’s son was born in March of 1996 and they were there for her the whole time. They remained in her life until the baby was born, but once Patty’s treatments ended (she went on to have five more months of chemotherapy after her son Patrick was born and then 5-1/2 weeks of radiation), in November of 1996, the woman fell out of touch and only called each other every few months. During the Summer of 1997, eight months after the completion of her treatments, Patty began to experience debilitating panic attacks. She met with a counselor who diagnosed her with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and after four sessions, encouraged her to go out and help others. Unbeknownst to her, during the time the three cancer survivors were out of touch, Mary Rose had written a short paragraph that would be a sidebar to a major article in Redbook Magazine, May 1997, about her experience with pregnancy and cancer. In response to the article, Redbook received 12 letters from women across the country who also battled cancer while pregnant. When the three women finally met face to face in September of 1997, Mary Rose showed them the article and the responses. Patty, Mary Rose, and Lisa recognized that there were women who needed a support network similar to what they had for each other. They felt strongly that they could be that support. Patty spent the next few weeks investigating the possible existence of national or international groups that already filled the need; but upon finding nothing, they decided to incorporate. They paid the filing fees themselves and in October of 1997 the Pregnant with Cancer Support Group Inc. was born! A newsletter was written and the three of them recruited the women who responded to Mary Rose’s article, together becoming the first group of Volunteer Support Women. Their mission has always been dedicated to providing women diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with information, support and hope – all the things that the founding members were seeking when they were first diagnosed.

What populations and areas do you serve?

The guiding principles of the organization are to serve women in all socioeconomic, ethnic and religious backgrounds world-wide; remove barriers to women obtaining complete and accurate information about their options for dealing with cancer while pregnant; and to respect and support every woman’s personal decisions without judgment. We have trained over 445 Volunteer Support Women from all over the world representing 32 countries including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Jordan, Russia, South Africa, India, Malaysia, Venezuela and Singapore. To date, we have counseled over 1200 women. The website has more than 1000 unique visitors each month providing countless others with the information, hope and resources they need.

Of the women receiving support, 70% have been diagnosed with Breast Cancer with 33 types of cancer represented. Women find it important to speak with another woman who has had the same type of cancer and stage; Hope for Two provides that support.

Tell us more!

Our mission has always been dedicated to providing women diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with information, support and hope – all the things that the founding members were seeking when they were first diagnosed. Our vision continues to be to offer resources and peer-to-peer counseling to all pregnant women diagnosed with cancer. From conception until 2004, the organization operated with only a working board, no employees, with the mainstay to the support network made up of volunteers – women who survived cancer while pregnant. Today, 20 years later, Hope for Two now has a Board of Directors consisting of eleven members including a licensed social worker who is a Cancer Counselor and one cancer survivor. Additionally, the organization has enlisted the assistance of a volunteer Advisory Board, including Dr. Elyce Cardonick from Philadelphia who is currently conducting a study on the affects of cancer treatment on babies and the survival rates of the women treated as compared to non-pregnant women. Dr. Cardonick acts as a liaison between newly diagnosed patients, their obstetrician and their oncologist to ensure that all those involved in the case have access to the best information for treatment and scans – the same information Patty desperately needed when she was diagnosed.

Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, phrase, or curse word?

“Everything happens for a reason…including cancer…because without it I would have never been able to have started this organization.” Patty Murray

How can we help?

Hope For Two operates entirely off of donations. The organization has three part-time staff, each working approximately 5-10 hours per week; and Patty Murray currently volunteers as the acting Executive Director. Donations are needed to fund the services that this organization provides to women in need. In addition, we are able to reach a great deal of women each year through word of mouth. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer while pregnant, we ask that you reach out to Hope For Two. We provide peer-to-peer counseling, as well as medical information and the assurance that countless women have gone through pregnancy and cancer, and then went on to live happy and healthy lives.

How can we contact your program?

Hope For Two is active on both Facebook and Instagram. Please like our page and share our posts, as these platforms have allowed us to reach a much larger number of women. Our website offers a plethora of materials, including medical articles, past testimonials from patients, and the option to get support. You can find our website here at: http://www.hopefortwo.org/ If you have any questions about Hope For Two, you can contact us through Facebook or our email at info@hopefortwo.org

Patty and her Chemo Baby Patrick

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Luna Peak Company

I was introduced to Melody Lomboy and Gracelyn Bateman of Luna Peak Company in early 2018 when I had the pleasure of being a part of their Project Inspire Hope. Here is their story.

Tell us your story. What is your program all about and how did you find yourself involved?

Luna Peak Company was created by my niece, Gracelyn and I. Because of my experience with triumphing over childhood leukemia at age 6, we wanted to learn from my family’s experiences and help others when facing difficult times. We decided to create inspiring books and media content. We photograph cancer and grief survivors and our mission is to celebrate life. Our cancer survivor project is called “Project Inspire Hope” and our grief survivor project is called “Snapshots of Life After Loss.” We are known for elevating survivor stories to give hope to those faced with extreme adversity. We know that sometimes you need to “see it to believe it” so we have photographed survivors and crowdsourced stories from those who have been through the experience and are now thriving. Seeing the eyes and faces of those who have walked a similar path can be a powerful reminder that we are not alone. Our photography humanizes the taboo subjects of cancer and grief that people are oftentimes too afraid to talk about. We open up a platform for people to share about their experiences and help others in the process and hope that it also sheds light on how to better support individuals through these tough times. We have created a platform where survivors and fighters feel safe sharing their very personal stories. We are proud that our participants have also found a sense of healing from sharing their stories with us as well.

What populations and areas do you serve?

So far we are working with cancer survivors of all types of cancers to serve newly diagnosed patients looking for inspiration. We also work with grief survivors to help those newly dealing with grief. We have other populations to serve as well and are working on more ideas. We basically want to work with those in need of seeing through challenging times.

What are the main obstacles that stand between you and your mission and what ways do you find to overcome them?

Our mission is to provide products to help others through the universal ups and downs of life. We are passionate about elevating the stories of survivors and strive to inspire others to embrace life with the same vigor. One obstacle we have faced is getting to all of the survivors that want to participate. We have survivors all over the world reaching out to be a part of “Project Inspire Hope” and it is hard for us to travel all over to get to them. Another obstacle was getting our work published to be available to those that need it. We implement instagram, twitter and facebook but would like to have a tangible book available to patients in the hospitals as well as waiting rooms across the country. We are currently working with a wonderful literary agent to make this possible.

Luna Peak Company aside for a moment, tell us about yourself. What makes you, YOU!

I battled acute lymphoblastic leukemia from ages 6-9. Surviving when many did not, I quickly found out just how strong and resilient a person can be. Throughout treatment, I swam competitively to keep my mind clear and body strong. This passion for the water led to a swimming scholarship at UC Irvine. I married my high school sweetheart, Tom Lowe, who was inspired by my oncologist at City of Hope. Tom is now an oncologist at Cancer Care Associates in Torrance. When I was undergoing treatment, I was told that I may not be able to have children, I now have 3 miracle babies- Daniel , Koa and Aiden. Family is everything to me and working with my niece makes Luna Peak Company even more special.

How has C directly impacted your own life?;

My cancer experience has shaped my entire life perspective from such a young age; when other kids were worrying about their homework- I was getting chemotherapy and fighting for my life. I feel the need to give back to the cancer community. I do this through volunteering, fundraising, and sharing my story of beating the odds to give hope to others who are newly diagnosed. My life motto is to CELEBRATE LIFE.

What are your go-to acts of self care?

I love to live life to the fullest by challenging myself with new adventures. I own a talent agency, practice yoga, swim in open water swims, play tennis and compete in mud runs. Besides my family, I am most proud of creating Luna Peak Company with the help of my niece. Without her I would not be able to juggle my mom life and this business. She is the driving force that has made this all possible. Daily check ins with Gracelyn keep me on track and sane.

What have you learned about yourself and the C community since starting with your program?

I have learned that there is is a special bond when you meet another person that has battled and overcome cancer. I am not sure if cancer chooses the strongest people to challenge, or if fighting cancer makes you a super person. But either way, survivors really are resilient, strong and amazing people.

What are some of your happiest and most joyful moments in this field?

When we have survivors come into the studio to have their photos taken. First off, I love to see them getting pampered by our amazing volunteers. They have their make up and hair done and get to feel great about themselves. It’s nice to see that cancer cannot take away all joy. When they come in to get photographed, they feel a bit nervous. So my favorite moment is telling them that I am a survivor as well. The minute I tell them, I am greeted with a huge smile and a big hug. The survivor connection is made and they relax and take the most beautiful photos. I love seeing their joy and strength.

Would you like to share one of your shittiest moments or memories of working in this field?

The hardest part of working with survivors and fighters is learning that someone passed away. When you have a large community of cancer survivors and fighters, this comes with the territory. It’s hard to deal with. Another very difficult and scary thing is finding out that a survivor that we worked with gets diagnosed with a secondary cancer. It challenges all survivors mentally, as we all fear a reoccurrence. We continue our work in memory of those that we have lost.

What are the latest happenings with your program right now?

We are finished with our photo shoots for cancer survivors and are almost finished filming grief survivors. Gracelyn and I are brainstorming new ideas to inspire others.

If you could share any piece of advice for someone who has been diagnosed, what would it be?

The diagnosis of cancer does not completely define you. But use it to mold a new you. Learn from this experience and take what you learn with you throughout your life. All of those challenges will help you in every facet of your life. And never ever forget to CELEBRATE LIFE.

How can we help Luna Peak Company?

We would love to have our social media sites grow. Please follow and share!

How can we contact you?

www.lunapeakcompany.com
@lunapeakcompany (twitter and instagram)
@snapshotsoflifeafterloss (twitter)
@melodythrives (twitter)
Luna Peak Company (facebook)
gracelyn@lunapeakcompany.com
melody@lunapeakcompany.com

A New Project

My work space… if I had a clean table, fingerprint-less laptop, and some fancy filter on my phone. AKA- it’s a stock photo.

Happy Wed-Nes-Day! (Any other adults out there who still have to sound this word out before typing besides me?) 😬

I hope that everyone has been mindful about practicing acts of self care since my last post. Or have at least put it on your radar, now that we’re aware of how important self care really is. Remember, we are all worth it!

So, I recently got a wild hair up my ass and decided that I wanted to start my “October Project” early. Like last year, I was planning to interview people in the C community. But this time around, I wanted to interview the peeps who help to support the C community via programs, organizations, etc. and not necessarily just those diagnosed- though I’ve found that these two things often intersect. I had planned to post one interview per day like last year. But as I thought about it more, I realized that I didn’t want to wait until October. Instead, I will be posting interviews from different foundations, programs, non-profits, businesses, organizations, etc. over the next several months. Hell, if I get enough interest, this could become an on-going deal.

Throughout the interviews, you’ll have a chance to meet the people behind the scenes and see just how dedicated and whole hearted they and the programs they represent sincerely are. My hope is that by showcasing each organization, more people will be able to personally find support or will have the information and can help to spread the word of these amazing people and programs.

The individuals I have been working with and gathering information from are truly special. If you find that you feel the same way and want more information or want to see how you can help, contact information will be provided. And if you know of any person or group that you would like to see included in this project and have a contact for me, let me know! I would love to be able to highlight them! Keep an eye out, I plan to post the first interview next week.

And a little note: You may have noticed that the domain name for this blog has changed from jessicafilloon.com to mamasgotthis.blog … This is in anticipation of another project I’ve been hard at work on. Stay tuned!