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Organization offers help and hope

Organization offers help and hope
Reminder Publications photo by Lori Szepelak

Cheryl A. Gorski, executive director, Cancer House of Hope Inc., on right, and Anita Smith Christopher, Ed.D., look over some of the new wigs available for area women in Springfield. The Cancer House of Hope has sites in Springfield and Westfield.

By Lori Szepelak
Correspondent

SPRINGFIELD - Hope.
For area residents dealing with the traumatic news of cancer, there is hope and support at the Cancer House of Hope, with locations in Springfield and Westfield.
As the leaves were gently falling to the ground on a recent late afternoon visit, the cool crisp autumn air dissipated after walking into the cozy home at 946 Plumtree Rd. Visitors are immediately transported back in time with an old-fashioned fireplace directly in front of the main entrance that is flanked by comfortable love seats. With dimmed lighting, the ambience of peace and tranquility immediately puts one at ease, whether it is to peruse the latest reading materials or to chat with staff prior to the start of a free program.
Throughout the years, both locations have provided guidance, support and hope through a variety of programs and services, according to Cheryl A. Gorski, executive director of the Cancer House of Hope. Gorski told Reminder Publications that with the arrival of fall, a host of new free programs has begun for women and men.
A sampling of new programs range from group nutritional counseling, life coaching and a mom's support group to a social and support group for men. In addition, a new therapeutic exercise and movement program titled "The Lebed Method" is now offered on Tuesdays at 4:30 p.m. for persons diagnosed with cancer and for those who currently or previously received radiation/chemotherapy treatment. Movements are simple and designed for men and women with no dance experience, while the sessions focus on recovery, positive expression and celebration.
As one weaves his or her way through each room, delicate colors flank the walls and rooms come alive with plants and a wide assortment of furniture and accessories that add character to each area that is used for meetings. There is also a designated area in the basement that features countless wigs, hats, scarves, mastectomy bras and breast prostheses that are all available free of charge to cancer patients.
Gorski noted that to address the increasing number of African-American and Latino women visiting the Cancer House of Hope, she recently purchased new wigs to ensure she would have wigs appropriate for everyone who needs them.
Wilbraham resident Anita Smith Christopher, Ed.D., a breast cancer survivor, touts the offerings and also finds support and friendship at the Cancer House of Hope in Springfield.
Smith Christopher, a "self-retired" educator, believes in the mantra of lifelong learning and knows the importance of staying upbeat and informed even while she is in remission. Her weekly trips to the Cancer House of Hope are invaluable whether it's picking up new literature or taking a yoga class and she recommends the programs and services to anyone seeking answers or support.
"I was looking for some support," she said.
She explained that she had some dark times and went through a period of denial but always kept focused on getting well.
"It's cancer and it's scary," she added. "I was looking at my mortality."
Smith Christopher commended Gorski and her staff for being "kindred spirits" as well as the many men and women she has come to know and now calls her friends.
"It's the best deal in town," she said.
As a cancer survivor, Smith Christopher knows firsthand how important it is to have knowledgeable people to talk to in addition to one's physicians.
"The front-line staff make you feel comfortable," she said.
Smith Christopher offered this advice to women and men who receive a cancer diagnosis "being at peace with the diagnosis is important for the healing process."
Smith Christopher lives life to the fullest and realized earlier on in her diagnosis that it was finally "time to do stuff for me."
She now enjoys herself working part-time at her church, Wesley United Methodist Church in Springfield, as well as taking courses at local colleges, volunteering at Baystate Medical Center and tutoring English as a Second Language classes. Her best times, however, are spent with her husband Albert, a carpentry teacher at Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical High School.
A self-described Type A personality, Smith Christopher said she now juggles her commitments differently.
"I'm happy," she added.
Smith Christopher exemplifies what life can be after a cancer diagnosis, with the right attitude and staying in the forefront of her medical care. She added that the Cancer House of Hope provides her with an educational and social outlet that she couldn't find anywhere else.
Gorski added that most of the women and men she sees come through the doors in Springfield and Westfield are also like Smith Christopher eager to learn more about their diagnosis and to find hope, encouragement and support.
For information on specific programs, services and hours at each site, visit www.cancerhouseofhope.org.
Individuals, businesses or organizations interested in making a tax-deductible donation to the Cancer House of Hope can contact Gorski at 562-0110 or via e-mail at executive-director@cancerhouseofhope.org.