Area Cancer Coalition Seeks To Open Wellness Branch

November 13, 1990|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff writer

Even on her worst days, Ann Goodrow would never dream of reaching for a cigarette again.

Seven years after she quit smoking, the avid golfer returned home exhausted from playing a strenuous round. She awoke the next morning with chest pains and coughing up blood.

Since she was diagnosed with lung cancer in June 1989 and underwent six weeks of radiation therapy, the 60-year-old Crofton resident has fought daily against the fear of dying.

She credits her weekly support group for providing the strength to face the frequently fatal disease. But Goodrow also would like to increase professional guidance and support, both for herself and for other cancer patients in the Baltimore-Annapolis corridor.

"It will be to make us all victors and not victims," she said. "You realize that you have to have the support, or you cannot survive."

Goodrow is one of more than 50 cancer patients, physicians and advocates working to set up a local branch of The Wellness Community, a West Coast-based clinic that offers free support and care.

The grass-roots coalition has raised about $40,000 so far, but needs another $160,000 to open a Wellness Community in either Anne Arundel County or Baltimore. To spark more awareness, the coalition organized a reception last week at Michael's Eighth Avenue and invited the founder of The Wellness Community.

Santa Monica attorney Harold Benjamin started the program in 1982, 10 years after his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a bilateral mastectomy.

Although Benjamin's brainchild has spread across the West Coast, The Wellness Community still has no branches in the Northeast. Benjamin aims to open his first two -- one in the Baltimore area and another in Boston -- next January.

"The two biggest problems cancer patients suffer is a loss of control and unwanted aloneness," he said during an interview at the reception Wednesday. "We provide a setting where they can take control of their life."

All nine chapters of The Wellness Community are staffed with licensed psychotherapists. The Anne Arundel coalition must raise $200,000 to train therapists and offset the first year's budget.

"This would really help improve the quality of life for many cancer patients," said Katherine Smith, a Glen Burnie volunteer with the American Cancer Society, who is coordinating the project.

Smith decided to push for a local chapter last spring after reading a Life magazine article on comedian Gilda Radner's struggle with cancer. The actress spent a lot of time at The Wellness Community in Santa Monica before the disease eventually claimed her life.

Smith and other volunteers still foresee an uphill battle to raise the money, although leaders of non-profit foundations from as far away as Harford County attended last week's fund-raiser.

"I think this is long-needed in our area," said Bonnie Levy, first vice president of the Mildred Mindel Cancer Foundation in Baltimore County, a volunteer group that raises money for cancer research and programs. The foundation intends to pledge part of the $56,000 raised during the premiere of Barry Levinson's movie "Avalon" to the planned Wellness Community, she said.

A local branch is needed to keep up with the growing membership of Anne Arundel's support group, Goodrow said. More than 25 cancer patients now crowd the Upjohn Co. office in Severna Park, where the group currently meets for two hours each week.

"The first time I went to the support group, I just sat and cried," Goodrow recalled. "I knew I couldn't make it by myself. We all need to share our feelings to cope with the devastation."

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