Thursday, October 30, 2008

Here at the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults we help people every day. Sometimes it is just by listening, other times by grants, or providing materials.

Personally, I am fulfilled in many ways by giving to someone in anyway that I can. The other day I spoke to a woman whose son had recently been diagnosed with cancer and she was feeling as though her life had been turned upside down. Just by listening and providing her with information on organizations that could be of assistance I was uplifted. Even though I did not do much, sometimes it is the little things that can make a difference.

The flip side of giving or being a caregiver is to be a care receiver. This is hard for most people especially those who like to give to other people. I am someone that has always volunteered at church, with youth or for other worthwhile organizations. I am a very independent person and am used to doing things for myself. Accepting help has always been hard for me and I have found asking for help to be additionally challenging.

In the last 18 months, I have often found myself in circumstances when I am in need of help and unable to do things on my own. In June 2007 I had a recurrence of cancer and have since been regularly dealing with the side effects of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and infections. At first, I was determined to face my recurrence all on my own. When people asked what they could do for me, I said that I was fine and asked if they could just pray for me. I know first hand that when someone we care about is sick or going through a hard time we can feel helpless. Helping a sick friend or loved one with tangible things can help the caregiver as well as the person they are helping.

I have had to learn the hard way that I cannot do things all on my own. It does not make me a failure or a weak person to admit that I am not Superwoman and in need of assistance.

I resisted help at first always saying I was fine and did not need anything. Then I started to take people up on some things. Accepting help started slowly and gradually grew. I started accepting meals cooked for me once a week and sometimes when someone offered to do something specific I would accept. I was always grateful when helped, I just felt stressed out that someone was taking time out of their busy lives to do something for me.

I will never forget the first time I got up the nerve to call someone and asked for something. It seems so small and insignificant now, but at the time it was a big deal. It was a simple need – I has run out of toilet paper. On top of feeling the side effects from chemo I hurt my back and was in a lot of pain. I was spending all my time on my couch or bed. I needed to go to the store for several days, but was unable to drive or muster up the energy to leave the house. It seems like a small thing now, but there are a few things that you cannot do without and toilet paper is one of them. I realized that I could not be stubborn about this and had to ask for help. I called a friend that was more than happy to help. Up to that point, I just could not find the courage to call someone up and ask them to go out of their way for me.

I am truly blessed that I have people in my life that are able to pick up the slack, because I know that there are many people affected by cancer who do not have the support system I have. Over the past year I have had people bring me meals, clean my house, buy groceries, pick up prescriptions, repair things around my home, do laundry, run errands and so much more. I call these people my “Angels”. They have truly been sent to me to make my battle with cancer an easier one. As hard as it is to accept that I need help, it is helpful to know that by accepting help I am helping others as well. I have talked to many of my “Angels” about my struggle with accepting help and how hard it is for me to request certain things. I am always assured that if someone did not want to do something or was unable to they would say so. My one friend told me that she is happy every time I ask for something, because she knew that she is helping me with exactly what I need instead of trying to guess to what is helpful.

I have come a long way the past year in accepting help, but still struggle with it everyday and often need reminding that allowing others to give is as important as giving yourself. There are times when we can be caregivers and times when we need to be care recipients. I encourage everyone to give back when they can, but learn to accept help when needed.

Intake & Resource Coordinator

Friday, October 10, 2008

Six Weeks til Race Day for Team CANCER to 5K

When I was diagnosed with Melanoma (Stage IIIA) at age 34, all I wanted to do was run. It was May 2005 in Northern VA and as I sat in the recliner in the chemo lounge at VA Hospital Center, 5 days a week for 4 weeks, I spent my time planning and plotting my workouts. The first week was great, I got up every morning and did a short run, 1-2 miles of easy jogging. I remembered thinking "If this is what chemo is like, this will be a breeze." That weekend, the full effects of 5 days of Interferon Alfa 2B brought my illusions to a screeching halt. I barely had the energy to walk around the block with my boyfriend.

Week Two started out better once my Onology Nurses and I found a good mix of hydration, tylenol and timing. I promised to slow down to walking most mornings, every other day, for as long as I was able (usually no more than a mile). It was a mile to the hospital from my house and my nurses would shake their head when I explained sheepishly that my pulse was a little high because I just walk to treatment. I officially became "that crazy girl Holly" on Week Two.

Week Three the walks were fewer because the truth was that I was sleeping more and having some trouble with my balance. Turns out my blood counts were too low, I got a day off from treatment and spent the day moping. It was beautiful outside and I wanted to run, walk, just get what little blood I had left flowing. I began to live vicariously through my friends. My girlfriend Keri would sit with me in treatment and tell me all about her latest race. I would listen intently until the benadryl kicked in and I would warn her "Keri, I think I am going to fall asleep..."

Week Four was the home stretch, after this week, I would graduate to self-injections of Interferon 3 times a week for the next 48 weeks. I spent those last 5 days in the chair - planning and plotting how I would convince my Oncologist that together he and I could get me to the start line of the 2005 Marine Corps Marathon. After all, I had registered back in March, long before cancer.

My Oncologist was a runner himself, and he made a deal with me. "You can train for the marathon but if there comes a day that your blood work tells me a different story, you'll stop running, no questions asked." We shook on it and for the next 5 months I ran when I could, walked when I had to and on October 30, 2005, I finished the Marine Corps Marathon in 6:07:33.

That was the day that the idea for the "CANCER to 5K program" was born. (
In May 2007, the Ulman Cancer Fund awarded me a Visionary Grant to help make my idea into a reality. The idea is a simple one: Lets offer 12 weeks of FREE training, entry into a local 5K race and a finishing medal to other young adult cancer suvivors, regardless of their current treatment status (with their Doctor's permission) so they can gain and/or maintain fitness, get some relief from the side effects of cancer treatments and focus on something else besides cancer.

Team CANCER to 5K - Ulman Fund's 10-THE RACE 5K, October 27, 2007

The program is growing and local survivors are reaping the benefits! One mile at at time...

In Fall 2007, we brought 2 runners and 12 volunteers to the Ulman 10-THE RACE 5K in Columbia, MD. Both Lance Armstrong and Doug Ulman became honorary members of the CANCER to 5K program on that day and received official finishing medals.

Team CANCER to 5K - Capital Crescent 5K, June 1, 2008

In Spring 2008, we grew again and did two 5K races. We had 2 runners and 8 volunteers run the Capitol Crescent 5K in Bethesda, MD and then we had 4 runners and over 14 volunteers running both distances of the Survivor Harbor 7 race (5K & 7 miles) in Baltimore, MD the next wekend. On that day, one of our survivors, Ben F., took 2nd place in the Open Men's Survivor category.

The Fall 2008 CANCER to 5K program got underway September 6th in spite of Tropical Storm Hannah's best attempts to stop us. This season's group of young adult cancer survivors is a great bunch! We have 7 cancer survivor's training with Coach Bob and our mighty group of volunteers (15 runners strong). We are halfway to the season and to race day, the VA Turkey Trot 5K in Centerville, VA, being held on November 27, 2008 (Thanksgiving Day). Just six weeks to go.

Team CANCER to 5K - Survivor Harbor 7 Race, June 8, 2008

All together at any given Tuesday or Saturday workout, there are between 15-20 of us running circles around the St. Stephen HS track (Tuesday Nights) and running along the Washington & Old Dominion/4-Mile Run Trail of Bluemont Park. (Saturday Mornings)

Maybe you have seen us, while on the W&OD trail in Northern VA? Several small groups of 4-5 runners each, varying paces - chatting away and running in the early morning. You'd know who we are if you have seen us at any races! Just look for the Bright Yellow and White and Neon CANCER to 5K shirts worn by our runners with BIG SMILES. If all else fails, listen closely ....You hear that COW BELL? YEP, that would be us! MORE COWBELL PLEASE!

We're just a bunch of young adult cancer survivors giving new meaning to the word ENDURANCE...One mile at a time.I'll be blogging weekly through race day so look out for Team CANCER to 5K updates exclusively here on the Ulman Cancer Fund Blog.

Holly Gannoe

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

It’s finally here in the United States…Healthcare for all!

Ok, not exactly as it sounds but now that I got your attention, listen up to something pretty innovative and exciting!

Howard County, Maryland (the community we were founded and where our offices are located) is officially making an effort to offer healthcare for all of it's citizens – even those without insurance.

This past week, our entire staff attended an exciting event held by Howard County Government and the Howard County Health Department to officially kick-off their Healthy Howard Access Plan. With over 25 people from the community present to enroll in the program, County officials and other community leaders were present to unveil the details of this exciting program and start enrollment. One politician commented, it’s no longer a question of ‘if’ we’ll have universal healthcare in this country, but rather how we’ll have universal healthcare. In a nutshell, this plan will provide healthcare for uninsured Howard County residents.

The event was a momentous time in Howard County! Enrollment is now underway and people are excitedly waiting to see what happens and how it positively impacts the uninsured in Howard County. Equally important, leaders in jurisdictions all over the country are watching to see how this plan will work. If successful, it will serve as a model for how services can be made available to uninsured people all over the United States with government, health care institutions, foundations, non profit organizations and some companies in the private sector cooperating.

Ken Ulman, Howard County Executive and brother of our Foundaer, Doug Ulman, and his team under the direction of Dr. Peter Beilenson, Howard County Health Officer, have worked tirelessly to make his vision of health care for all a reality. As we all know, many cancer diagnoses are made dangerously late particularly in those patients who do not get regular health screenings and check ups due to lack of health insurance or access to health care. This plan will assure that the clients will have 6 primary care visits (plus an additional GYN appointment for women) annually in addition to recommended screenings for early detection of disease. This level of care will certainly save lives and greatly improve the quality of life for it's participants.

Congrats to Ken Ulman, Dr. Bielenson and the entire hardworking team at the Howard County Health Department for having the innovation, dedication and will to introduce such an exciting initiative! There hard work is going to help change lives and possibly the healthcare system as we know it!

Find below an article that appeared in the Washington Post last week about the groundbreaking program.

Washington Post Article

Brock Yetso
Executive Director

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