The origins of the Cancer Concern Center are connected to a simple question:
It’s a question pondered by many people when they’ve just been diagnosed with cancer and don’t know where to turn.
It’s a question debated by those who are enduring cancer treatment and struggling to see the light at the end of a dark tunnel.
And it’s a question that pestered two women who had just met but shared an important bond: cancer and a desire to connect with others.
In June 1996, Jill McDonough and Lori Jeffries (both breast cancer survivors) met at a spa weekend retreat for women with cancer. About 10 women participated in the retreat, which had been recommended by psychologists and oncology nurses.
None of the women knew one another or had attended any kind of support group. But throughout the weekend, there was instant bonding and a constant flow of conversation among the women, who exchanged phone numbers and promised to keep in touch.
Jill and Lori couldn’t stop thinking about how wonderful it felt to be in the company of other women who truly understood what it’s like to share your life with the insidiousness of cancer. They wanted the camaraderie and kindness they’d experienced at the retreat to continue, but they didn’t know where to find such an interactive, supportive environment. So they participated in cancer walks and fundraisers, and sought out support groups, but nothing felt quite right.
“Lori and I thought something special had been given to us through the retreat,” Jill recalls, “but then it kind of left us cold again. I found some support groups at the hospital, but they were extremely depressing. You were right outside the radiology unit, and who wants to hang out there?
“When we were at the retreat, it felt like we were at ‘Aunt Mary’s house’,” Jill continues. “So it was up to us to find that type of warm, homey place…or create it ourselves.”
The Cancer Concern Center began to take shape when Jill stumbled upon a small shop that specialized in bathing suits for women who’d had mastectomies, “but there was a couch and a coffee machine in the back,” Jill remembers. “I spent a rainy day in that shop, chatting with the other women. I left thinking, ‘now this is something!’. And I called Lori right away.”
As Jill and Lori told everyone they knew about their “great idea” for a comfortable, home-like support center, an anonymous donor contributed $10,000 and other sizable donations followed, especially those made in honor of loved ones who had passed away from cancer. This financial support from the community enabled the new non-profit to start renting space on Richmond Avenue in Point Pleasant Beach (the Cancer Concern Center’s current location).
“As soon as I entered the office, I knew it had the perfect layout,” Jill relates. “I said, ‘This is it! This is God!’ We had space for a living room and kitchen, which is perfect for support groups, and we even had a separate room that could be used for yoga classes. We didn’t have a computer or a phone, but we had a Cancer Concern Center!”
The Cancer Concern Center hosted its first support groups on Tuesday mornings and Wednesday nights in the fall of 1996. Even as the Cancer Concern Center gradually expanded its programs to include free access to nutritional counseling, Reiki and yoga classes, makeovers, massage and meditation, its roots have been in support groups from day one.
From the early days of distributing fliers and asking people for donations (a necessary practice that continues!), the Cancer Concern Center has met a critical need in the community for caring, knowledgeable support of adults with cancer.
Women and men who have been diagnosed recently, or are further along in their journey with cancer, are encouraged to stop by the Cancer Concern Center, have a cup of tea or coffee and talk about what’s troubling them. Staff and volunteers – all of whom have been personally touched by cancer – are available to offer referrals, advice, hugs and peace of mind.
“Ten years ago,” Jill points out, “there’s wasn’t much talk about wellness or a mind-body connection in people with cancer. Today, the medical community is much more accepting of a tie-in between physical care and overall wellness.
“Women tell us all the time they couldn’t have gotten through chemotherapy without their Reiki and yoga,” Jill continues, “or they wouldn’t have been able to handle a recurrence of cancer without coming to our support groups.
“Cancer is a walk through a period of your life,” Jill believes. “Your life starts again when you’re told you have cancer. At the Cancer Concern Center, we’re trying to give people hope and encouragement that we can get through this journey together.
To support the Cancer Concern Center, please consider making a donation. We’re committed to offering as many free wellness programs as possible to adult cancer survivors in the Monmouth/Ocean County area of New Jersey. In order to do so, we’re dependent on the generosity of our community. Thank you!