On Saturday October 15th the Volunteer Center will host a fabulous evening of Swing Dance and Fundraising at the Felton Community Hall from 6-9 PM to support our former co-worker and dear friend Laurel Hillerson Spear in kick-starting Fiona’s Family House, a new non-profit program for young adults battling cancer.
Motivated by her own struggles in navigating parenthood, career ambitions, finances, and medical red-tape as a young adult with cancer, she chose to develop Fiona’s Family House as a legacy for her six year old daughter Fiona.
Laurel states, “I look at every experience with Fiona as a chance to create a memory of me for her to savor after I pass. Fiona’s House is my tribute to and my legacy for her. She is my everything, and this community will be a better place, a more knowledgeable place, because she entered my world.”
In addition to laying the foundation for Fiona’s Family House, Laurel is in the process of making Fiona a birthday present for every birthday ages six to 21.
As a tireless advocate for the rights and wellness of others through her work with organizations tackling mental health and homeless issues over the last 12 years of her career, it seems only natural that she would find the strength and courage to use her journey as a means to lift up and partner with those who are struggling.
The Volunteer Center is proud to serve as the fiscal sponsor for this new non-profit and we hope you will join us at the Swing Dance.
We invited Gary Hillerson, Laurel’s father and co-founder of Fiona’s Family House, to introduce their program plan:
We are thrilled to announce that The Santa Cruz Volunteer Center granted fiscal sponsorship to us, Fiona’s Family House, on August 16th, 2016. We are committed to providing support and community building for young adults with advanced cancer (YAs), and to helping educate local healthcare professionals about the unique needs and concerns of young adults.
Life changes instantly, and in a dramatic fashion, for anyone who receives a cancer diagnosis. When that diagnosis is for an advanced stage, metastatic cancer, the upheaval is greatly amplified; when the person receiving that diagnosis is a young adult (YA) in his or her prime, the experience is particularly surprising and dismaying. This is especially true for young parents, who bear the additional burden of managing their children’s emotional responses to such a devastating situation.
Because young adults represent less than 5 percent of diagnosed cancer cases every year, researchers oncologists, and social services providers have little experience in working with their issues.
We have started Fiona’s Family House to focus on two critical needs in Santa Cruz County and elsewhere: to provide community-based support for young adults with advanced cancer and their families, and to educate healthcare professionals in our area about the unmet needs of YAs.
Among other things, it is lonely and isolating to be a cancer patient in your 20s or 30s. It’s possible that you may have young children, you are probably building your career, you’re a fairly new homeowner, and your relationship with your partner is trying to settle into a steady rhythm. Your friends and coworkers are bewildered and may be unsure how to relate to a friend in their age group who is dealing with such a serious disease. This situation tends to worsen over time, as a number of friends who initially reacted by reaching out and spending time with you get caught back up in their lives.
Your parents and family members are there for you, but they provide the kind of friendship that you’re used to having in your life. Your primary partner is incredibly supportive, but even s/he is unable to fully comprehend what it’s like to be struggling with pain, constant and overwhelming fatigue, and the relentless medical appointments. You spend as much time as possible with your children to provide for their needs, which can amplify your need for more meaningful interactions with people your own age.
You miss being part of a community of friends, which has become difficult because it’s not possible for you to get out and about like you used to do; going off on adventures with others is possible once in a while; even when you are able, you often need “special handling,” and that adds to your reluctance to participate.
You seek out support groups to fill the gap, but you discover that pretty much all of the cancer support groups in the area are filled with people who are more than twice your age. There’s support and empathy there, but most of the other patients are unable to fully grasp what it’s like to deal with advanced cancer while having to make a living, manage a household, and raise a young child whom you love dearly.
We have started Fiona’s Family House to help build community-based support for YAs and their families, starting in Santa Cruz and eventually expanding to other areas. We plan to create three programs that will facilitate community support for young adults: 1) direct financial support for YAs who need help with subsistence needs in the face of overwhelming healthcare bills and loss of work income, 2) development of YA-related educational resources and programs for local healthcare providers, and 3) eventually create a home-based space for support tailored for YAs and their families.
The concept is simple: In community we are stronger, in family we are stronger, and by imparting knowledge through direct practice and advocacy, YAs live richer and more empowered lives, gaining strength through their diagnosis.
Fiona’s Family House is actively seeking donations from individuals, groups, and businesses.
Please visit www.fionasfamilyhouse.org to learn more.