Profiles of a Volunteer: Brenda Preister, Meridith Tusha and Geri From

This week, the American Cancer Society is celebrating National Volunteer Week.  In honor of the thousands of ACS volunteers throughout Nebraska, we will share some stories of dedication from those who give their time and energy to the fight against cancer around the state.  Check back each day this week to view new featured stories of volunteerism.  If you’d like to share your story, please email us by clicking here.

Brenda Preister


BrendaPreister2.jpgLike so many people, Brenda Preister became involved with Relay For Life after being personally touched by cancer.  In 2007 her daughter, Charli, was diagnosed with stage III Neuroblastoma, an aggressive form of childhood cancer.  The first Relay they attended marked the end of Charli’s chemotherapy, putting her into NED (no evidence of disease) status. 


“My husband and I walked the track holding our 11-month-old little girl and watched the look on people’s faces as they wondered why such a small thing had that purple shirt on,” said Brenda. 


The following year Charli was selected to be the honorary co-chair for the Relay For Life of Platte County.  That year, the Relay Team Charli’s Angels was formed raising an amazing $13,168 as a first-year team and has been the top Friends and Family team at the Platte County event for two years in a row.  Since that first year, Brenda decided to make an even larger impact in the fight against cancer and served as co-chair of the Relay with Charli’s great aunt, Janelle Preister. 


During Charli’s treatment, the Preisters found out first hand how the American Cancer Society can benefit those faced with the disease.  They recieved an ACS gas card to assist with travel expenses in getting Charli to her treatments.  They were also on the website coutless times to learn as much as they could at all times of the day.  A few years later they turned to ACS again to help her mother-in-law with her battle using numerous ACS resources to help their family along the journey that cancer leads.


BrendaQuote.jpg“Raising money for the American Cancer Society to find a cure for cancer is something we all need desperately and we will all benefit from,” commented Brenda.  “If not for you today, maybe for you tomorrow…your spouse, child, parent or sibling.  I have in-laws, cousins, friends and neighbors who are battling cancer.  Unfortunately, I know ther will be more to come.  Those people will have direct access to all that ACS offers because of money raised by our county and that is an amazing thought to try to process.  The bottom line for me is that years ago someone was selfless enough to Relay.  Because of all the hard work put forth years ago, we will celebrate Charli’s 4th birthday this summer!  That is all the reason I will ever need.”


(Photo: Brenda and her daughter Charli)


Meridith Tusha


MeridithQuote.jpgMeridith Tusha became involved with the American Cancer Society shortly after losing her older sister Lisa to breast cancer at age 37.  She called the American Cancer Society’s 800 number (1-800-227-2345) and was told about Relay For Life.  She joined the planning committee for the Douglas County Relay right away.  She was so eager to begin volunteering because Lisa’s battle with cancer was not the first.  When she was five-years-old she was diagnosed with cancer in her ear canal (embroyonal rhabdomyosarcoma).  Lisa was not “supposed” to live.  Her having more birthdays meant that Meridith got to know her.  Her resolve to give back became even stronger in February 2007 when her dad was diagnosed with stage IV brain cancer (Glioblastoma Multiforme) and passed away six months later.


Meridith has seen how ACS can help cancer patients by using and the ACS 1-800 number.  Last year, she served as chair for Nebraska’s largest Relay For Life event in Omaha and is team development chair for the event this year.


“I believe it is important for people to be involved with ACS because our time is making a difference in the fight against cancer,” commented Tusha.  “We are giving people the resources they need to get answers and we are helping provide services that truly make a difference in cancer survivors and caregivers lives.  I know someday when someone gets the diagnosis for stage IV brain cancer it won’t be a death sentence and the money we raise for research during Relay For Life will have made the difference.”


Geri From


GeriFrom.jpgGeri From was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997.  After her second chemotherapy treatment, she was laying in bed feeling pretty sorry for herself when an American Cancer Society Relay For Life volunteer asked her to walk in the local Relay For Life.  And walk she did!  She was so touched by all the luminaria bearing her name and 
seeing all the survivors that night, that she has been involved with ACS since that first lap.  But the reason she continues to volunteer after 12 years later is quite simple…her daughter Amy and granddaughter Jordan.  It is her hope that they will never face a cancer diagnosis.


Geri has been such an instrumental part of the American Cancer Society in Nebraska, it might be easier to list off programs, services and events that she has NOT been a part of.  In the last 12 years, Geri has been co-chair of the Relay For Life of Butler County as well as survivor chair for the event.  She has attended Lobby Day, was an Ambassador for Celebration on the Hill and is a member of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.  She is a Reach to Recovery, Road to Recovery and office volunteer and was recognized as one of Nebraska’s Heroes of Hope in 2010.  In the community, Geri was instrumental in bringing a cancer specific health fair to David City that provided free cancer screenings for breast, colon, oral and skin cancer as well as general ACS information.  She implemented a Cancer Resource Center at the Public Library in David City and helped to bring a cancer specific health fair to the community as well.  Geri also hosted an event to honor breast cancer survivors in David City and implemented a “Pictorial Tribute” for Relay For Life.


GeriQuote.jpg“I think it is important for people to be involved with the American Cancer Society in order to gain knowledge of the important work that is being done,” said From.  “Research, education, advocacy and patient services all greatly impact not only the quality of life but also the survival rates of cancer patients.  As a Reach to Recovery volunteer I think it is important for a newly diagnosed cancer patient to talk to someone who has faced a breast cancer diagnosis.  As a Hero of Hope, I want to let my audience know what an important part research has played in my survivorship.  The American Cancer Society’s dedication to research has helped make it all possible.”


(Photo: Geri has sewn Relay t-shirts on the back of jean jackets and donates them to Relays across the state that have silent auctions.)


National Volunteer Week: Stories From Volunteers Around Nebraska

This week, the American Cancer Society is celebrating National Volunteer Week.  In honor of the thousands of ACS volunteers throughout Nebraska, we will share some stories of dedication from those who give their time and energy to the fight against cancer around the state.  Check back each day this week to view new featured stories of volunteerism.  If you’d like to share your story, please email us by clicking here.

Theresa Baack


Theresa_Baack02.jpgTheresa Baack of Kearney has been a crucial part of Relay For Life in Buffalo County during her time volunteering with the American Cancer society.  She has held all positions on her RFL committee and, in 2009, was named as one of Nebraska’s Heroes of Hope.  Theresa also volunteers for the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program which pairs a breast cancer survivor with a patient who has been recently diagnosed to help that person through their cancer diagnosis.  Theresa has also served on the ACS Survivorship Task Force as well as the Marketing and Communications Task Force and is an ACS CAN ACT Lead.  She is a Heroes of Hope Mentor and has also been trained as a media  spokesperson in Nebraska.


Theresa was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of 2004 but that’s not what led her to the American Cancer Society.  She has been part of Relay For Life since 1998.  Theresa knew that she needed to volunteer after discovering how many people in her life had been affected by cancer.  From a co-worker fighting breast cancer to seeing cancer take the life of her sister six years ago to finding out that 31 members of her family had, at one time, battled cancer, all called her to ACS.



“ACS has so many services and programs that help cancer patients and their caregivers through the horrible journey,” commented Baack.  “I know that by doing Reach to Recovery visits, I can offer hope of surviving and I know that each dollar raised through Relay For Life will help another person celebrate more birthdays.  The 800 Number (1-800-227-2345) and the rides to and from treatments (Road to Recovery) are so important.  I know that my sister and her in-laws benefitted from the wigs provided as well.”


(Photo: Theresa Baack on the right)



 Janice Kirchhoff


Janice Kirchhoff of Lincoln has exemplified what it means to be an American Cancer Society volunteer.  Janice has been a team leader for Lincoln’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk for five years and has served as a Reach to Recovery volunteer for four.  She also volunteers in the Lincoln office at least a few hours each week assisting with a wide range of activities including stuffing pillows for Reach to Recovery patients, washing, packaging and labeling donated breast prosthesis, assembling Personal Health Manager kits, assisting with answering the phones and assisting at the front door, preparing mailings, mending and repairing hats and much more.


JaniceQuote copy.jpgJanice was diagnosed with breast cancer on October 2, 1998 and had a lumpectomy three days later followed by 30 radiation treatments and five years on Tamoxifen.  In 2004, a relative in his late 40s was diagnosed with bone cancer and called Janice for help since she was a survivor.  She knew the ACS office was near her home so she stopped in.  After telling her situation, she was immediately offered everything from local support groups to books and brochures for her cousin. 


“I was impressed and touched by the staff and asked if there was anything I could do for them,” said Kirchhoff.  “I was signed in on the volunteer calendar right then.  This experience is why it is important for me and others to volunteer with ACS.  There are thousands of things we can do which frees up time for staff to do the jobs they do so very well.  I really get more back from volunteering at ACS than what I give.  I may not know the cancer patient I helped but I know ACS is helping and I feel good to be a little part of them.”


Pat Zink


PatZink1.jpgFor Pat Zink, volunteering for the American Cancer Society is about making a difference.  In October of 2006, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  That year, she called the ACS office and volunteered to help with Making Strides Against Breast Cancer in Lincoln.  Since she was still in treatment, her daughter walked for her and, in each year since, her whole family and friends walk in the event.


In addition to MSABC, Pat has been involved in Lincoln’s Hope Gala, Relay For Life, Bag Lady Social and is now working with her granddaughter Tati in the Lincoln ACS office.  For Pat, cancer hits close to home with her mother being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 72.  The day Pat was diagnosed, she spent the day with her sister having surgery for precancerous growths.  Since, her and her family have been vigilant with their exams and mammograms.


PatQuote.jpg“I have two daughters, a daughter-in-law, four granddaughters and a sister who I love very much,” commented Zink.  “I would like to see a cure in their lifetime, and the fundraising done in the past has made it possible for me to live well after a cancer diagnosis.  Just imagine what the future holds with new treatments and discoveries.  That money and time that we donated will be the difference in someone’s life and it makes you feel good too!  Mahatma Gandi said, ‘You must be the change you want to see in the world’.  I want to make a difference in my world and ACS with many more birthdays celebrated and a cure in sight!”


(Photo: Pat with her granddaughters, Tati, Schuyler, Keelin and Natalia)


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