When a person is diagnosed with cancer, medical treatment is only one of the things they must face.
And they are not the only ones who are facing the diagnosis. Their loved ones are also affected.
Cancer Pathways works to support cancer patients and their families and Wednesday morning, the Seattle-based nonprofit organization held a breakfast in Redmond to raise awareness throughout the Eastside about their services.
This includes educational services, lectures by doctors, support groups, family programs and camps for kids. All of Pathways’ services are free.
Executive director Anna Gottlieb founded Pathways — formerly named Gilda’s Club Seattle — because when her mother was diagnosed with cancer when Gottlieb was young, there were no support services out there for people like her family who needed it.
She wanted a place where people could be together with others who have had similar experiences. Gottlieb said being able to do that, to come together, makes a huge difference.
At Wednesday’s breakfast, that sentiment was expressed several times by the morning’s speakers.
One of the scheduled speakers was Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond) of the 45th Legislative District, who was unable to attend as he was regaining his strength after undergoing cancer treatment.
Hill had been diagnosed with lung cancer in March 2009 and participated in a clinical trial and the cancer tumor subsided. In June of this year, doctors discovered a small recurrence of lung cancer and Hill has since been undergoing treatment.
His wife Molly Hill said he will continue with his treatment until he gets better.
Hill is currently halfway through his second term as a state senator. The legislative session starts in January 2017.
While Hill was unable to attend, Molly did attend the breakfast.
She did not address the crowd but told the Reporter that their family was introduced to Pathways when Andy was asked to be a model in the organization’s annual Surviving with Style Fashion Show fundraiser six years ago. Prior to this, they didn’t know Pathways existed.
Molly described Pathways as a “really unbelievable support network.” She said they are like the best friend who knows exactly what to say in these situations.
“They know what to do,” she said.
Since that first fashion show, Molly has asked any cancer survivor friends to be models in the show.
This was how Karen Waalkes, who spoke at Wednesday’s breakfast, was introduced to Pathways.
After surviving a breast cancer diagnosis twice — in 1993 and in 2008 — she said Molly asked her to model in the Pathways fashion show in 2014. While sharing her story, Waalkes said she wished she had known about Pathways when she had been diagnosed because of how much they support families dealing with cancer.
Waalkes has been involved in the fashion show every year since her introduction.
“Each year has honestly been a delight,” she said.
In addition, other members of Waalkes’s family have gotten involved in Pathways’ various programs. Her son has been a counselor at Camp Sparkle, the organization’s week-long day camp for kids who have been affected by cancer.
Waalkes said going into it, her son hoped the kids who attended the camp would have fun. However, she said, he was also appreciative as he was able to connect with other kids who have experienced similar hardships.
Molly’s son was also a camp counselor over the summer. This was his first time and she said after her husband’s cancer came back, they told him that he didn’t have to go to the camp if he didn’t want to. The 15-year-old ended up sticking to his commitment and while it initially started as a way for him to log some volunteer hours for school, Molly said he plans to return as a counselor next year.
Gottlieb said Camp Sparkle — which Pathways hosts in Redmond, Seattle, Everett and Tacoma — is for campers ages 5-12 and offers kids a place where they can be with others who understand what it’s like to have cancer in the family. The camp primarily serves children who have loved ones who have battled or are battling cancer, though they do have a few cancer survivors who had battled the disease in the previous year or more. Gottlieb explained that a camp is not a healthy environment for children with cancer.
When kids are around others who understand their experiences, they don’t have to explain things such as why their mother does not have hair, or why they do not have hair themselves. The other campers get it, Gottlieb said.
Wednesday’s breakfast also featured a camper, Norah Singh. The 7-year-old has attended Camp Sparkle three times after her brother battled and lost his life to cancer.
Norah said at the camp, she met other kids who have been affected by cancer and they helped each other feel happy. Her favorite part of the camp is the counselors.
Norah’s father also gave an impromptu address Wednesday. He shared how his daughter has become good friends with some of her fellow campers and she is able to be herself around them. She can talk about losing her brother to cancer and she has learned that it is OK to miss him.
“It’s OK to talk about (cancer),” he said. “It’s OK to be angry about it.”