‘Passport to the Cure’ Allows Cancer Patient to Fight Back, Find Hope

Lindsey1_Small.jpgOn Saturday, August 7 guests of the second-annual Passport to the Cure will be able to take their taste buds on a journey to Europe, and may not return!  This entertaining fundraiser for the American Cancer Society allows guests to take a night off and experience an enjoyable evening that is both pleasurable and rewarding.  Lindsey Fonda’s connection to Passport is a touching story that describes exactly why this event is important. 

When Lindsey found out that she had small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma of the cervix, she said that her “chest felt empty and I was surrounded by that same overwhelming loud silence that happens after someone you love dies.”  The then 24 year old underwent six rounds of chemo, full radical hysterectomy and six weeks of radiation.  Lindsey remembers that she “literally went from partying and planning my next weekend to wig shopping and menopause – in a matter of weeks.” 

Five years prior to her diagnosis, Lindsay lost her Grandpa to Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.   “Within a couple of days of being diagnosed I had a dream where my Grandpa gave me a hug and told me that I would understand the meaning of all this someday.”  After this revelation Lindsey decided to get involved with the American Cancer Society and is making an effort to try to understand her purpose in surviving cancer. 

Although many people who attend Passport to the Cure are/have been cancer patients, there are many guests as well who are lucky enough to have no direct connection to the disease.  Passport will take place at the Keneko Art Gallery (1111 Jones) in downtown Omaha.  Tickets are $75 for individuals, a pair for $125 or a corporate table sponsorship including tickets for 10 for $1,250.  Lindsey will be serving as a co-chair for next year’s event and is excited to present some extraordinary live auction packages at this year’s event such as a trip for two to Chicago including tickets to a Cubs’ game and ten Husker Champions Club tickets and poker night with former Husker athletes.  Local band Conspiracy Theory will be providing live music for guests throughout the evening as well. 

Lindsey is very excited to be volunteering for the American Cancer Society through Passport to the Cure.  “ACS carries a positive note, a helping hand, and people that are passionate to battles of friend and stranger alike.” 

For more information about Passport to the Cure or to find out how you can sponsor the event call 402-393-5801 or visit www.PassportToTheCureOmaha.org or www.cancer.org.  You can also find out more information by visiting the Passport to the Cure page on Facebook. 


ACS Offers Support Groups in Omaha to Help People Cope with the Holidays

The American Cancer Society, in conjunction with Alegent Health, Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center and the Nebraska Medical Center, will offer a pair of support groups to help those going through a cancer diagnosis cope with the emotional stress of the Holidays.

On Thursday, November 19, a support group for colorectal cancer patients will focus on spirituality and coping with the Holidays.  Josh McDonald, staff chaplain from Alegent Health Pastoral Care will present the program from 5:30-7:00 p.m. at the American Cancer Society office at 9850 Nicholas Street in Omaha.  A light dinner will be provided at this meeting.

On Wednesday, December 9, a support group is open to caregivers caring for adult cancer patients.  The topic of this session will be surviving the Holidays presented by Holly Adams and Linda Dempsey of the Alegent Health Cancer Support Team.  The group will meet from 4:00-5:30 p.m. at the American Cancer Society office at 9850 Nicholas Street in Omaha.

“These support groups provide a great opportunity for those going through cancer to talk with experts as well as others going through similar circumstances,” commented Lisa Vignolo, Community Manager for the American Cancer Society.  “It is so very important for cancer patients and caregivers to not only focus on their physical health, but their emotional well-being as well.  That’s what these support groups are here to accomplish.”

Anyone wishing to reserve a spot in either of the two support groups needs to make a reservation by calling the American Cancer Society at 402-393-5801.  Reservations for the Nov. 19 session should be made by Monday, Nov. 16 and reservations for the Dec. 9 session should be made by Dec. 4.

Portia’s Story: Cancer Survivor Finds Way to Give Back

I recently had the opportunity to interview our new volunteer in the Omaha office, Portia Harrell. During Portia’s interview for the position, Pam asked her without knowing she had cancer,  “Why do you think you would be good for this position?”. Portia responded with, “Because I want to be around something that I have gone through and I think that I can help others in the same situation as me.” Two days later Portia found out she got the position. This is Portia Harrell’s story.

Portia noticed a small lump on her chest in March 2008. She went to her family doctor who prescribed her something to take for the swelling to go down, but after taking the medicine the lump only got bigger. Without insurance an MRI was not possible so she tried to apply for an insurance help program and after being denied twice she left it at that.  

Portia's Story Pic.JPGJanuary 16, 2009 changed Portia Harrell’s life forever. Just 22 years old Portia was diagnosed with stage two
Nodular Sclerosing Type Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Nodular Sclerosing Type Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a genetic cancer only among siblings. Portia’s older brother was also diagnosed with the same cancer back in 2006. 

In the early hours of the morning on January 16, Portia was brought to the hospital after getting into a car accident. Instead of finding any broken bones, the doctors found cancer. The lump on her chest was in fact cancer and not just a bump like her family doctor thought it was all along.

 “I was in complete shock and my heart broken when the doctors said those three words ‘You have cancer,'” Harrell said with tears in her eyes. “I am only 22 years old, how could this happen to me?” 

After more tests were done, the doctors then filled Portia’s ears with tons of options to treat her type of cancer. The decision was made to start with 13 cycles of chemotherapy. She then spent 25 days in the hospital and in that time she began to fall in love with the nursing staff.

“The nurses at Creighton University Hospital really helped me through all my treatments even when it made me so sick I wanted to give up,” Harrell told me. “They even called me Princess Portia.”

Portia went to chemotherapy every other Thursday starting less than a week after her diagnosis. Each chemotherapy session lasted four hours. With Chemotherapy comes hair loss, yet another downside to finding out you have cancer. After the first chemo treatment Portia’s hair began to fall out strand after strand. Fearing that everyone would know she had cancer Portia set out to find a wig.

She did some research on her own and found that the American Cancer Society had free wigs for cancer patients. Not wanting to go to the American Cancer Society, she went to a local wig shop.  Most people do not know how expensive a wig can be and neither did I until I met Portia. The first wigs Portia looked at started at $150. These wigs are ones you cannot style or wash so what’s the point of spending that much money on something you can only wear a few times. The lady working then directed Portia back to the American Cancer Society. It was fate. She got her first wig from the very office she now works in.

“I wore that wig a long time actually,” Harrell told me. “It was synthetic hair so it stays shiny, I needed something I could switch up.”

                Prior to Portia’s diagnosis she attended cosmetology school at LaRose Beauty Academy so she was very familiar with working with hair. She decided to make her own wigs. For her this became a hobby. She has made about 40 wigs since she started chemotherapy in January.  

“I’ve learn to put my hair on without looking in the mirror. If I see myself without hair it will ruin my entire day,” Harrell told me, “even if its messed up, I will fix it once I have it on.”

Even though Portia found a way to keep her mind off the fact she has cancer, she still faces many struggles each day.

Fighting back the tears once again Portia tells me, “The doctors said I will never be able to have kids because of all the chemotherapy I’ve had to do. I am only 22 years old and I feel as if my life stopped and started going in slow motion when I found out I had cancer.”

Portia completed her last cycle of chemotherapy on July 9, 2009. Now Portia must wait until the chemo runs its course. Then she will go through a series of tests to see if more treatment is necessary. In the meantime she will be trying to help others dealing with the same stuff while working for the American Cancer Society.

“I was very excited to have made it all the way through chemo.  I tried everything to get out of it. I have my mother to thank. She is the one that stuck by me more than anyone else.  She was there through all the nights I couldn’t sleep, through all the crying and all the pain. I love my mom,” Harrell said with a smile on her face.

To find out more about the American Cancer Society’s patient services offered in your community, call 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1.800.227.2345.


by Amanda Jones, ACS Communications Intern