Posts Tagged ‘Candy’s Place’

Finding the Ecstasy in Life After the Agony of Cancer

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Three Cups of Tea at Candy’s Place

By Kitch & Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD
The Face of America Project

Joy is not in things. It is in us. Richard Wagner

During our Face of America journey, Kitch and I survived a serious automobile accident in Minnesota, heat stroke in New Hampshire, road rage in Florida, a blizzard in Arizona, closed roads in Wyoming, and 3 computer meltdowns.

These are trivial events compared to what happened on December 9, 2010. On that day Kitch went for her annual mammogram. I was at home preparing for a screening of our documentary: Visiting Shanksville in the Rain. It was scheduled for December 10, in North Plainfield, New Jersey.

The telephone rang. The voice at the other end of the line cracked with emotion. I heard words that I never expected to hear. Kitch could not finish the call. That was done by the compassionate and competent voice of Dr. Dan Kopen.

Within minutes, I was in his office holding Kitch’s hand while Dr. Kopen explained the results of the mammogram and the need for a biopsy. In less than a week, we met with Dr. Kopen again.  This time he spoke three words that seared an indelible mark on my soul: “invasive ductal carcinoma.”

For the next 11 months, virtually all of our time, effort and energy was spent battling an adversary we could not see, hear, or feel.

Fast forward to the most beautiful Sunday of autumn, Kitch and I are making our way to the Grand Ballroom at the Woodlands Inn and Resort. We were welcomed graciously at the door by a board member and a volunteer from Candy’s Place. After a brief conversation we entered the ballroom. We were overwhelmed by what we saw.

Wherever we looked, someone dressed in something pink was smiling or laughing. People were engaged in good conversation. They were taking group pictures.  They were checking out the cornucopia of prizes donated by public spirited citizens to raise money for the one-on-one programs offered at the Center for Cancer Wellness.

Heather Gaydos, a high school student and volunteer, was selling homemade biscotti and cookies. Theresa Novak, the yoga instructor at Candy’s Place and two of her friends were carrying baskets filled with chocolate products courtesy of her store, Ah! Some Chocolates.

Penny Cunningham, the founder of Candy’s Place, was busy meeting and greeting people, and Nicole Farber, the center cirector, was attending to last minute details for the tea.

The atmosphere was welcoming and very festive.  The mood in the room was joyful, and the setting was beautiful in every respect of the word.

The beverage and sweets served at the tea were tastefully displayed and quickly removed by the room full of cancer survivors, family members and friends who came to show their support for Candy’s Place.

One by one, eight of these women walked to the podium in the front of the room to tell their stories about diagnosis, treatment and survival.

Rebecca Barrett was 37 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She asked the question, “What has the gift of cancer given me?”

Her answer; “It made my family stronger. It made me stronger, and it made me closer to my family.”

Mary Ann Meeker is an affable woman.  She likes to talk. In 1996, she was 57 and enjoying life. She had no family history of breast cancer. These are the words she used to describe her reaction to the news that she had breast cancer. “It hit me like a ton of bricks.”

Carol Marino is a strong woman with a good sense of humor. She talked about the dark time between diagnosis, surgery and recovery. Even though she has been cancer free for 17 years, it is still an emotional experience for her. She celebrated the services provided by Candy’s Place and the friends she made there.  She offered this piece of advice to those who will be diagnosed with cancers of any kind. “You have to believe in hope. When it might seem darkest, you have to have hope.”

Stacey Casey attended the event with her husband. She admitted that she is a newcomer to the long gravel road called cancer. She thanked her husband for his loyalty and support and she made it very clear that she is learning every day that support from family and friends is vital to recovery.

Rhonda Zikowski spoke with honesty about the fear that comes with cancer, and she thanked Christine Fazzi the personal trainer at Candy’s Place for making her feel stronger. With sincerity that touched the hearts of everyone in the room she paid Chris the ultimate compliment, “You are always kind, generous and there for me.”

Jean Connelly is a decorated veteran in the war against cancer. She has successfully defeated two different forms of cancer. Jean is a woman of infectious humor and great resolve. She spoke with authority when she shared these words, “When they throw the “C” word at you, it hits home and knocked the wind out of my sails.”

Thinking out loud about what she learned from her experience, Jean offered this insight;
“I am a blessed person, because cancer taught me how to live, not to wait to be happy. It taught me to be happy today.”

For Beth Miner, 2007 was an Annus Horribilis. Her 40-year-old niece died from breast cancer.  Her neighbor died from breast cancer, and she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Beth had a very difficult time with chemotherapy, and she could not finish the infusion treatments, but fortunately things worked out well for her and her family.  Today she is a volunteer at Candy’s Place and a woman who has a special gift when working with other survivors.  Maybe that’s because when people walk through the door to Candy’s Place, Beth sees a mirror image of herself.

In Beth’s words, “When I meet a cancer survivor for the first time the feelings come back to me.  I don’t know why I am here, but I am standing strong.”

Mary Ann Gap was the last speaker. She is a positive and determined woman. Her story speaks to the heart and soul of Candy’s Place. When she was diagnosed at 50, she was alone.  Her family and friends lived out of state. She did not drive, and she was struggling.

Her radiation oncologist, Dr. Norman Schulman, connected her with Candy’s Place. When she made her first visit, Nicole Farber greeted her with a smile.  She arranged to have Denise Fried make a weekly call to Mary Ann. This call gave Mary Ann the gift of connection, and it helped her make a successful recovery.

Listening to these women and thinking about Kitch’s experience in her one-on-one yoga classes with Theresa Novak, makes it very clear to me that cancer is a vicious disease that can be beaten if detected early. But it takes a family to overcome the fears and the scars that come with the treatment and cure.

In my opinion, if you’re looking for love, go to Candy’s Place. If you’re looking for compassion, go to Candy’s Place, if you’re looking for understanding, go to Candy’s Place. At Candy’s Place you are family.

It was inspiring to be in the presence of a room full of heroines. No matter where you looked in the Grand Ballroom, you saw a heartwarming, thought provoking scene.  The words of Emily Dickinson took on new meaning for me, because these women had found ecstasy in life. For them, the mere sense of living was joy enough.

In a way, Kitch and I were having our third cup of tea at Candy’s Place. We were no longer strangers, or casual friends. Like everyone in the room, we were family, and it felt wonderful.

The moment Penny Cunningham won the door prize added to our delight. What a fitting and serendipitous end to a memorable afternoon.

It doesn’t get any better than an afternoon of pink tea at Candy’s Place.

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Battling Cancer with Hope and Determination

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

A Special Evening at Candy’s Place

By Kitch & Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

“Home is not where you live, but where they understand you” Christian Morgenstern

Anyone who has experienced the anxiety, agony, pain and uncertainty that comes with a diagnosis of cancer knows full well the need for words of comfort, help and encouragement.

They also know that cancer victims, and their caregivers, need safe havens where they can experience what Kitch calls “No ‘C’ Days.”

In our little corner of the world, we are fortunate to have such a place. It is officially known as The Center for Cancer Wellness of NEPA. We prefer its more affectionate and personal name, Candy’s Place.

On this October evening, Kitch and I went to Candy’s Place to listen to Dr. Dan Kopen talk about breast cancer.

Dr. Kopen and Candy’s Place are about as close as any cancer patient will get to perfection. Dr. Kopen represents the best in breast cancer diagnosis and surgery. Candy’s Place offers cancer patients a kind, thoughtful, warm and welcoming environment for recovery. You feel it the moment you enter the building, and it stays with you long after you leave.

During our visit, Dr. Kopen emphasized 10 important points about breast cancer.  His presentation began with hope and it ended with reassurance.

1. Cancer is not the disease it used to be.

2. In the 1970s, it was a death sentence. That is not the case today.

3. Advances in digital mammography enable doctors to diagnose early stages with greater accuracy and frequency.

4. Cancer is a scary word; the earlier the diagnosis the better then prognosis.

5. Much of what you hear about breast cancer is not all good information.

6. More younger women are being diagnosed today.

7. There are 300 ongoing studies about breast cancer.

8. There is a correlation between the environment and cancer, but it cannot be pinpointed accurately.

9. To effectively battle breast cancer the mind and the body must be in sync.

10. A second opinion is one of the best ways to align the mind and the body to combat breast cancer. A patient should not leave any stone unturned in making a decision about the proper treatment. Her physician should do everything possible to get her the best treatment available.

That is precisely what Dr. Kopen did for Kitch.  He encouraged, and he facilitated a second opinion at Fox Chase in Philadelphia. That visit made all the difference for us.

We returned from our visit with Dr. Laurie Goldstein with a very specific plan and renewed confidence. The physiology and psychology were aligned thanks to the wonderful people we met at Fox Chase.

Dr. Dan Kopen is a genuine from-the-heart as well as the mind kind of doctor.  He has treated 3,000 breast cancer patients.  He has performed 2,000 breast cancer surgeries. His credentials are impeccable. His demeanor is quiet, competent, compassionate and welcoming. Just being in his presence makes a patient feel comfortable.

On this evening, he arrived early, and stayed late.  He answered every question, and after his presentation he visited with several people who wanted to seek his advice about their situation. Watching him out of the corner of my eye, I saw a person who loved his work because he knew he was in a position to help people successfully navigate the dark gravel road called cancer.

He also made time for three student nurses from Wilkes University, and members of the administrative staff at Candy’s Place.

Penny Cunningham, the founder of Candy’s Place, was on hand to greet everyone. Penny is an amazing woman.  She has dedicated virtually every minute of her life to the mission of Candy’s Place.  The premature death of her sister Candy Vincent Mamary in 1998 closed the door to a priceless relationship with her sister, but it opened the door to Candy’s Place for thousands of people who benefit from its programs like yoga, exercise, massage therapy and cancer awareness and treatment information.

With great skill and due diligence, she has assembled a top notch team of professionals and volunteers headed by Nicole Farber. They are the heart and soul of Candy’s Place. They make it what it is by attending to all the little things that matter to patients and caregivers.

At one point in the evening, I saw an image of Dr. Kopen, Penny Cunningham, and Nicole Farber talking with the student nurses and a cancer survivor. As I focused the image for a digital picture, the words of Martina McBride’s song, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” reverberated in my memory:

When you’re weak, I’ll be strong
When you let go, I’ll hold on
When you need to cry, I swear that I’ll be there to dry your eyes
When you feel lost and scared to death,
Like you can’t take one more step
Just take my hand, together we can do it
I’m gonna love you through it.

It’s the perfect description of the people who made this evening so special, and the life- saving blessings of Candy’s Place.

During the evening while I was recording video and digital images, I thought about Kitch’s battle with breast cancer.

Under the watchful eye of Dr. David Greenwald, she successfully completed chemotherapy. It was difficult, demanding and at times debilitating, but she never gave up and she never gave in.  

When she finished her chemotherapy infusions, she took the extra step to guarantee a successful outcome by taking 33 radiation treatments administered by Dr. Norman Schulman and his wonderful staff of technicians.

To facilitate the transition from treatment to the restoration of a full life, Kitch visits Candy’s Place once a week for one-on-one yoga lessons with Theresa Novak. These sessions have been invaluable in her recovery.

Before Kitch and I got into our car for the ride home, I turned to look at the entrance to the building. What I saw in the darkness of the night was a bright moon resting just above Candy’s Place.  Below it, three women were sharing stories about the evening. They were smiling and enjoying the comfort of good information, good company, delicious treats and a sense of belonging that lifted their spirits and gave them hope.

Oliver Wendell Holmes was right, “Where we love is home.”

Thank you, Penny Cunningham.

Thank you, Nicole Farber

Thank You, Dr. Dan Kopen

Thank you, Kitch for giving me the opportunity to love you through it.

You are four faces of America on its best day.

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