Founder Has Made Cancer Support Center Her Crusade

November 10, 1991|By Jill Zarend

Katherine Smith says she was just "pulled into helping cancer patients."

"There was no real tragedy in my life to make me go in this direction. I'm just going in this direction," says the soft-spoken 55-year-old Glen Burnie resident.

But her history says otherwise.

Smith has volunteered or worked in social services for more than a decade. An Anne Arundel Community College graduate with a degree in human services, she has worked atNorth Arundel Hospital, been a board member of the American Cancer Society and facilitator of cancer support groups.

Her biggest crusade in helping cancer patients has been forming the Wellness Community.

She was named the local organization's executive director at themonthly board meeting Sept. 11.

The mission of the Wellness Community, a non-profit organization, is to help cancer patients to recover to the greatest extent possible.

It is a place where cancer patients learn to fight for their recovery on the psychological and social front along with their doctors and health-care team. The organization offers free support groups, lectures and friendship.

During Smith's tenure at North Arundel Hospital from receptionist to medical social work assistant, she was eventually assigned to a floor where cancer patients were housed.

"It was brought to my attention that they didn't know much about their disease," Smith says. "Either they were improperly educated or in shock from dealing with it."

It was then she began her campaign to educate cancer patients.

Smith and Suzanne Mitchell, M.S., started facilitating a cancer support group in April 1987. The group still meets from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday nights atSeverna Park United Methodist Church and from 7 to 9 p.m. the first and third Monday of the month at the Linthicum Heights United Methodist Church.

Smith only works with the Linthicum group. She also conducts "I Can Cope" classes two times a year. The series of six to eight sessions is for cancer patients and their friends.

"It's very enlightening," she explains. "You learn a lot about how to look at each day and appreciate it. They are very positive. They help each otherthough the medical system, medical jargon, medicine's side effects and how to deal with family and friends."

Smith learned about the Wellness Community through a cancer patient at her Thursday night group two years ago.

"A member brought in Life magazine with the GildaRadner story," Smith says. "I read it and felt that it was serving the same purpose as the Thursday night group, only on a daily basis."

In April that year, Smith flew to Santa Monica, Calif., to meet Harold Benjamin, the founder of the National Wellness Community. She returned full of hope and enlisted Dr. Cornelia Dettmer, Mitchell and Marie Mulroy in helping her start the Wellness Community.

Benjamin traveled to Anne Arundel County and officially chartered the organization. In early 1990 a board was formed. There are 16 board members now.

Although she cannot officially use the title executive directoruntil the doors open at the new facility later this year, she has been acting in that capacity for about a year.

The chairwoman of theorganizing committee, as Smith is known to the National Wellness Community, has been instrumental in raising more than $100,000.

She has enlisted support from the Soroptimists of Anne Arundel County, whosponsored a fashion show and raised $7,000 for the organization; obtained a county grant; sponsored a golf tourna

ment; and solicited funds from C&P Telephone, the Kiwanis of Central Maryland and many other businesses and organizations.

The largest contribution has come from a group of physicians at Annapolis Radiology, who donated $50,000 in the name of Alexandra Adams, who died last year of breast cancer. Her husband, Bill, is a member of the firm.

The Wellness Community is in search of a permanent facility and must raise in excess of$200,000

to get it started. They must also raise that amount to keep it rolling annually.

The non-profit has about $110,000 available.

Their largest fund-raising effort will be the black-tie affair, "A Night with Charlie Byrd," from 4 to 7 p.m. March 15 at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis. Cost is $125 per person and will include gourmet treats and refreshments.

Information: 987-9299.

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