WENATCHEE — People who’ve had cancer say the diagnosis becomes a dividing line in their lives. There were the days before they knew they had cancer, and the days after.
It’s not just the physical drain of the disease and its treatments that make this diagnosis so life-changing.
First, there’s the very real threat that you may not survive it. And then, if you make it through the surgeries, the chemotherapy, the radiation or any number of other treatment options, there’s the continuing worry that it will come back.
One thing is for sure: Most people are never the same again.
That’s where the EASE Cancer Foundation comes in.
The nonprofit Wenatchee organization has worked behind the scenes for five years to help people who have cancer deal with their new lives.
On May 5, the group — which relies largely on donations and grants — will host a fundraiser at Sun Mountain Lodge near Winthrop where participants will walk, hike or run to support cancer survivors.
EASE Cancer offers workshops, retreats and rehabilitation groups to encourage cancer survivors to take control of their own well-being, and develop ongoing healthy lifestyles. EASE stands for Exercise And Survivorship Education, and now focuses not only on physical wellness, but also social, psychological and spiritual aspects of health.
Topics range from whole foods cooking, meditation and yoga to the importance of exercise, laughter, sleep and stress management.
They’re taught by a faculty that includes doctors, nurses, therapists, an exercise professor, a dietitian, a naturopath and many others.
“A lot of it’s common sense,” says Katie Kemble, a nurse practitioner, researcher and president of EASE Cancer. Like eating healthy foods, exercising, and maintaining a healthy outlook.
Kemble sad diet and exercise can decrease the reoccurence of some forms of cancer by 50 percent. “It does matter,” she said.
But those lifestyle changes are also things that may not come easy for someone who was just diagnosed with cancer, or who just finished treatment.
Wenatchee resident Patsy Everson-Stewart said she could hardly drag herself out of the house and make it to the YMCA twice a week when she first joined EASE Cancer’s 12-week rehabilitation program last spring. The program is a collaborative effort with the YMCA, Central Washington University, and the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center. Everson-Stewart had breast cancer, and ended up with a double mastectomy. “I felt deathly ill,” she said. “I was still recovering from post-treatment surgery and I was wiped out, and trying to get off sleeping pills.”.
What: Trails of Cancer Survivorship
When: Saturday, May 5. Hike is 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., includes lunch with live outdoor music, a dinner slideshow, and live music by Seattle songwriter Linda Waterfall followed by Bluegrass from the Saddle Rockers.
Where: Sun Mountain Lodge, Winthrop
Cost: Suggested donation for hike is $50. Sun Mountain Lodge is offering a two-night stay May 4 & 5 including all Saturday meals and entertainment starting at $175 per person.
Information: Download brochure at easecancer.org, or call Sun Mountain Lodge at 800-572-0493.
But after a few weeks, she started looking forward to the Wednesday and Friday sessions. From walking and stretching to yoga and Zumba, each workout offered a new form of exercise.
“I felt crappy, but I always felt better when I went,” she recalled. “It was just fun. There were all these different things that ordinarily, we wouldn’t be doing.”
But best of all, she said, she met a group of women who she probably wouldn’t have met otherwise, and they formed fast friendships. Her class at the YMCA happened to have 14 people who were all women.
“We were all in different places in our lives, but when we were there, we were like a little family of sisters,” she said.
Everson-Stewart said after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she found out some people she thought were her friends weren’t there for her.
“It’s really true. They kind of disappear, some of them. You have to accept that. It’s just how some people cope with it is by pulling away,” she said.
But in her rehabilitation class, she discovered that things she might worry about with her old friends she didn’t even have to think about. “Nobody cared that I didn’t have any breasts. It’s just a different kind of acceptance that you wouldn’t get in almost any other group,” she said.
Nine months after the classes ended, four of them still meet every Wednesday and Friday to walk together. “We talk about our families and share our anxieties about upcoming tests and scans,” she said. Some of them tease her for being such a worrier.
“It’s like any other experience that’s hard. It’s always helpful to talk to other people who’ve been through it.”
Everson-Stewart said she’s also been to some of EASE Cancer’s workshops and retreats, which are different experiences from the group’s exercise program. Together, she said, they’ve helped her in ways that aren’t really offered through standard medical care. “I can’t recommend either one more highly. They’re wonderful in different ways,” she said, adding, “It helps you feel like a person again, and not a patient or a blood count.”
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512